Johan Zoffany Mrs Woodhull c.1770

Artwork details

Artist
Johan Zoffany 1733–1810
Title
Mrs Woodhull
Date c.1770
Medium Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions Support: 2438 x 1651 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition Presented by Dr D.M. McDonald 1977
Reference
T02217
Not on display

Summary

Catherine Ingram (1744-1808), fourth daughter of the Rev. John Ingram of Wolford, Warwickshire, married Michael Woodhull (1740-1816), the eminent bibliophile, minor poet and translator of Euripides, in 1761. They had three children, all of whom predeceased their parents. Catherine was buried at Thenford, the Woodhull family seat in Northamptonshire. Michael Woodhull (or Wodhull) was a wealthy man, owning a town house in Berkeley Square. In about 1765 he built the manor house at Thenford to replace the existing Elizabethan mansion. He was for a short while a prisoner of Napoleon in Paris.

This portrait was probably commissioned between 1768 and 1770. According to Woodhull's account book: 'March 31st 1768 ( gave Kitty a draught in February ....... 63100' and 'April 28th 1769 ( Zaffinie, besides what I gave Kitty last year .... 6310' (information provided by Anne Heseltine, letter to Tate Gallery, 28 February 1990). The picture was to be hung in the South Library at Thenford. One of the flowers in the basket the sitter holds is a passion flower, passiflora caerulea. Although a specimen of this hothouse plant had been introduced to Britain in 1699, it was still rare in private gardens. Zoffany often followed German convention by including in his portraits one or more objects of significance to the sitter. The inclusion of this unusual plant suggests that the Woodhulls were keen gardeners.

According to the Leggatt Bros. exhibition catalogue Paintings from the Collection of Dr. D.M. McDonald (1970), there were family documents (as yet untraced) showing that the portrait was originally commissioned as a half-length, but that the Woodhulls were so pleased with Zoffany's work that they asked for it to be enlarged to a full-length. There is in fact a noticeable join in the canvas around the upper part of the figure, consistent with the shape of a half-length portrait. The areas around the join also show evidence of extensive reworking. The lower edge of the inset cuts across the sitter's left hand below the wrist, resulting in a slight awkwardness of the position of the flower basket. This indicates that the area was completely re-designed to effect a smooth transition between the upper and lower halves of the figure.

Zoffany was best known as a painter of conversation pieces and theatrical portraits. Possibly prompted by the success of Francis Cotes and Reynolds, he produced this rare effort in life-scale portraiture in the fashionable classicising grand style. A mezzotint engraving by Richard Houston of the portrait was published on 28 May 1772 (National Portrait Gallery, London). A half-length in an oval, also by Houston, possibly showing the picture as it was before being converted to a full-length, was published 1 September 1772 (Witt Print Collection, Courtauld Institute of Art, London).

Further reading:
Robin Gibson, Paintings from the Collection of Dr. D.M. McDonald, exhibition catalogue, Leggatt Bros., London 1970, p.78, reproduced
Mary Webster, Johan Zoffany 1733-1810, exhibition catalogue, National Portrait Gallery, London 1977, pp.11, 53
The Tate Gallery 1976-8 Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1979, pp.25-6, reproduced

Terry Riggs
January 1998