Catalogue entry


Not inscribed
Oil on canvas, 35 3/4×27 15/16 (90.8×71)
Bequeathed by Alan Evans to the National Gallery and transferred to the Tate Gallery 1974
Coll: Presumably painted for Richard Dalton, and first recorded in 1796 in the will of his brother-in-law John Landon who bequeathed it to his brother James Landon, from whose executors bought by Capt. Samuel Landon in 1812; inherited by his wife Elizabeth (née Maud) in 1844 and thence by descent to the Revd. John Primatt Maud; sold Christie's 31 May 1902 (68) as ‘The Drawing Lesson’, bt. by ‘A. W.’;...; the Hon. Frederick Wallop by 1920; by descent to Alan Evans
Exh: Conversation Pictures, 25 Park Lane, 1930 (58); National Portrait Gallery, 1977 (32, repr.)
Lit: Lady Victoria Manners and G. C. Williamson, John Zoffany RA, 1920, pp.155, 242, 308, repr. facing p.154 (as ‘The Palmer Family’); G. C. Williamson, English Conversation Pictures, 1931, p.22, pl. LXV (as ‘The Palmer Family’); M. Levey, The Later Italian Pictures in the Royal Collection, 1964, pp.28–30, 35–36 (for information on Dalton)

The sitters are Richard Dalton (?1715–1791), antiquarian and minor graphic artist, librarian to George III and from 1778 surveyor of the King's pictures, his wife Esther (née de Heulle, d. 1782) whom he married in 1764, and their niece Mary de Heulle. Mary was the daughter of Esther's brother Abraham (d.1763) and his wife Mary Magdalen Garnault whom he married in 1758, but whose date of death is not known. (see genealogical papers relating to the de Heulle family and Abstracts of Huguenot Wills, Book B, p.42, Book C, p.16 and Book E, p. 305 in the library of the Huguenot Society of London, Wagner Collection). The orphaned child was evidently brought up by the Daltons, who had no children of their own, receiving three thousand pounds in trust from her de Heulle grandfather, a wealthy Spitalfields silk-weaver, on his death in 1765, and being named a legatee in her aunt's will of 1775 (proved 1782). In the will of Esther's brother-in-law John Landon (1725–95) to whom the painting descended, it is described as ‘... the picture wherein Richard Dalton and his wife Hester Dalton and Mary de Heulle now Mary Agar are painted’ (proved P.C.C. 1796-Harris 462).

In 1812 the painting was bought from the executors of James Landon by a younger brother, Capt. Samuel Landon ‘in contemplation to offer it to the Prince of Wales, his being intimate with the family’, but nothing came of this (undated letter of c. 1844–7 from John Landon (1767–1847) to his nephew Francis Landon, still in family possession; a transcript is in the gallery files, through the kindness of Mr Martyn Landon. The writer, who was an amateur artist and had met Dalton in his youth, adds that ‘the likeness of Dalton is wonderful’).

During the indirect descent of the painting thereafter the identity of the sitters was forgotten and eventually the picture was wrongly re-identified as ‘The Palmer Family of Dorney Court, Bucks’, under which title it has been known for most of this century (the Palmers were ancestors of the Mauds through the Landon line).

Zoffany gained royal patronage by the mid-1760s and would have naturally come into contact with Dalton, who had been in the King's service from at least 1758. On grounds of dress, style and the putative age of the sitters one has to ascribe the painting to the artist's first sojourn in England, before his departure for Italy in 1772; Miss Mary Webster dates it c. 1765–8.

Various pentimenti show that originally a more elborate background may have been intended: a strip on the wall to the right of Dalton's head may have been the beginnings of a mantelpiece and a lighter rectangle to the left of his wife looks like the remnants of a high-backed chair such as the one now occupied by her niece. The elaborate curtain originally dipped lower. The awkward spatial relationships suggest a studio setting rather than Dalton's rooms in St. James's Palace.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978