Painted in 1782 this portrait of Mrs Baldwin encapsulates the finest aspects of Reynolds’ oeuvre, and is one of the most beautiful pictures by Reynolds to come on the market in recent years. The work is a sublime fusion between portraiture and imaginative subject painting. The portrait is influenced by Eastern culture but also represents the highpoint of eighteenth century Western portraiture. Ellis Waterhouse commented that it was ‘a remarkable picture’, and Waagen praised its ‘clear and warm colouring’. The condition of the work is excellent, and its illustrious provenance, in the same private collection for almost two hundred years, cannot be faulted.
The sitter was the daughter of William Maltass, merchant of the Levant Company, and his wife, Margaret Icard. Her father whose family came from Ripon in Yorkshire travelled to the East with his brother Henry in the early years of the eighteenth century, and was amongst the earliest Europeans to settle in Turkey. She was born in Smyrna, in Turkey, on 26th June 1763 and married George Baldwin, a rich Alexandrian merchant, who later became British Consul-General in Egypt. She travelled widely and lived in England for a considerable number of years, and was always admired for her intelligence and beauty. She was patronised by Mrs Hester Lynch Thrale, who remarked "I…hope to Obtain some favours from the new Ministry for my pretty Greca: could her Husband but gain the Embassy! Oh I should not sleep for Pleasure. This pretty Greek as we call her, was born at Smyrna, & ran away with a Man whose Family had been some of Mr Thrale’s best Friends in the Borough; between Gratitude to him, and delight in her, for artlessness & Beauty; I have been led to interest myself no little towards protecting her, may my Fortune & Talents be ever devoted to Charity & Friendship! & may I have the Strength & Courage to despise them who would hinder its Current, by trying to make each other believe that its Source was only Desire!". Her sister, Sarah, married Chevalier Alphonse de Cramer, Austrian Consul at Smyrna, and she was also related to the Reverend Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), the celebrated political economist.
On a visit to Vienna in 1780 Mrs Baldwin entranced Emperor Joseph with her beauty, and he commissioned a portrait bust of her. She attracted the attention of the Prince of Wales when she was in London, and even Dr Johnson asked permission to kiss her.
Reynolds has depicted her in romantic, almost regal costume. Aileen Ribeiro describes her costume as ‘a fancy dress, reputedly Persian, consisting of a rich, striped, brocaded, green and gold caftan and a sleeveless ermine overgown’. She also comments that it was a ‘genuine costume’ since it was worn at a ball given by the King (A. Ribeiro, The Dress worn at Masquerades in England 1730-1790, and its Relation to Fancy Dress in Portraiture, 1984, p.232). Reynolds alludes to the sitter’s 'Persian' heritage by painting her holding an ancient coin of Smyrna. Mrs Baldwin records the amusing anecdote that on one occasion she was bored with sitting and Reynolds consequently suggested that she read a book. In the final version this book became a coin which Mrs Baldwin gazes at with mild perplexion. Smyrna adopted a gold and silver coinage system in the 7th century B.C. but they did not achieve a significant period of financial and cultural prosperity until the Alexandrian era of the 4th century A.D. Although the coin in this picture fulfils an artistic compositional function, Reynolds may also have been keen to use coinage as a metaphor for Mrs Baldwin’s successful and established position in society.
There was an important artistic tradition of portraying sitters in exotic middle eastern costume. Reynolds may have known the portraits by Van Dyck of Sir Robert and Lady Shirley (Petworth, National Trust), which are amongst the earliest to show sitters in exotic dress, but by the end of the eighteenth century there was wide interest in the East. A few years before this portrait of Mrs Baldwin, Reynolds had painted a number of elegant women in oriental guise, including Lady Kent (now Private Collection) and Lady Williams-Wynn (National Museum of Wales, Cardiff). The significant difference between these sitters and Mrs Baldwin is that Mrs Baldwin actually came from the Levant. It is important, therefore to link this work with Reynolds’ portraits of Omai (fig.1) and Wang-Y-Tong (fig.2), men who became society favourites on account of their exotic ‘otherness’. It is also important to note the influence of the artist, Jean-Etienne Liotard who travelled to the Levant with Lords Bessborough and Sandwich, and who painted a series of women both at Smyrna and Petra. Reynolds may well have been familiar with these works.
In addition to its exotic qualities this magnificent work has a distinguished provenance. As with Omai this great painting was not a comission, but was retained by Reynolds in his Painting Room where it remained until the Greenwood’s sale in 1796. This can perhaps be interpreted as a measure of the fondness, and pride, which Reynolds felt for the picture, and the portrait must have remained on the walls of Reynolds' studio both for his personal pleasure and for the postive impression which such a work must have made on prospective clients. The portrait was later acquired by the artist, Richard Westall. Westall exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy from 1784 onwards, and the work of Reynolds, as both an artist and as President of the Royal Academy, profoundly affected the young artist. Late in 1813 the portrait was acquired from Westall by Henry, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (fig.3). It was to be the first, and perhaps the greatest of the paintings by the artist he was to acquire; though its companions were of unusually high quality. Lord Lansdowne would have seen the painting that summer when he visited the exhibition at the British Institution to which it had been lent by Westall. In William Whiteley’s words "In this year the principal event was the exhibition of the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, held in the summer at the gallery of the British Institution, by whose Directors it was organised. This was the first exhibition of its kind in England and its success convinced the Directors to show in the following summers’ collections of pictures which bought before the public most of the finest works in private galleries of England" (William T. Whiteley, Art in England 1800-1820, 1928, p.205). The inaugural banquet was held on 8th May hosted by the directors of the Institution, including Lord Lansdowne, and was attended by the Prince Regent who "rose [from the dinner] at half past nine, and was conducted back to the Exhibition Rooms by the Marquess of Stafford. The company stopped to drink the health of the Prince Regent, with honour; and then followed him to the rooms, which were finely illuminated, and a splendid appearance of Ladies heightened the coup d’oeil of the brilliant spectacle. Many more persons of the highest distinction… also came to the gallery in the evening and the promenade continued until a late hour at night" (Op.cit., p.206, Whitely quoting an anonymous reporter).
The exhibition was the greatest success, gauged both by the number of visitors to the British Institution in Pall Mall, where the walls were hung with specially woven crimson cloth as a background to the paintings, and by the expressions of interest to be found in contemporary journals and letters. Sir Charles Long, the celebrated connoisseur and art advisor to the Prince Regent, wrote to a friend in the West Country that June; "I shall be very sorry if you are not enabled to visit London to enjoy the Exhibition of Sir Joshua. I venture to say it will fully exceed all your expectations, and you will never have such another opportunity. Put yourself on the Mail Coach at once" (Op.cit., p.207).
In all, a hundred and fifty paintings had been lent including Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse (now in the Dulwich Picture Gallery), The Countess of Stanhope (now in the Huntingdon Art Gallery, California), Master Bunbury (now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art), The Death of Dido (Royal Collection), Garrick Between Tragedy and Comedy (now the Rothschild Collection), The Duke of Orleans (now the Royal Collection), and Miss Abington (now in the Yale Centre for British Art). Mrs Baldwin hung in the first room alongside Mrs Siddons as the Tragic Muse (lent by William Smith, M.P.), The Hon. Mrs Stanhope (lent by Lady Thomond), Mrs Parker (lent by Lord Borington), The Marchioness of Tavistock (lent by the Duke of Bedford) and Lady Carysfoot (lent by the Earl of Carysfoot). No wonder the reviewer of the exhibition referred to "a splendid appearance of the Ladies" – he clearly was not simply referring to the visitors, but the entrancing portraits themselves.
By 1813 Lansdowne had acquired a reputation for both political acumen and connoisseurship. He had been born in July 1780, the only child of Lord Shelburne (later 1st Marquis of Lansdowne) and his second wife, Lady Louisa Fitzpatrick. After attending Westminster School he went to Edinburgh University and then to Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating in 1801. After an abbreviated grand tour following the Peace of Amiens, he entered the House of Commons as M.P. for Calne in 1803 at the age of twenty-two. He quickly caught the attention of both Fox and Pitt and rose to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in the Ministry of All Talents when still only twenty-five. He remained a highly influential member of the Whig Party in the Commons until 1809, when he succeeded his half-brother as 3rd Marquis of Lansdowne and entered the House of Lords. For the next fifty years he was a dominant figure in the party, bringing the opposition together in parliament, and at Lansdowne House, the great family palace off Berkeley Square, and his country seat at Bowood in Wiltshire (fig.4).
The family inheritance had largely been squandered through his father's extravagance and the great collection of paintings, furniture and antiquities, built up by the first Marquess at both Lansdowne House and at Bowood, had largely been sold. Indeed the great sequence of Adam rooms at Bowood had even been shorn of their doors and window frames. However the financial acumen which the young Chancellor had brought to the nation’s finance was applied equally to the restitution of the family estates; a task brilliantly accomplished. So much so that by the second decade of the nineteenth century not only were the houses restored and embellished by Sir Robert Smirke, Charles Cockerell, and Charles Barry, but the losses to the collections had been more than put right. Lansdowne was both a great collector and a great patron – showing an intuitive eye when acquiring works of art of the greatest quality, although as that perspective commentator Mrs Jameson wrote in 1845 that "with out setting forth any pretension of connoisseurship, with out apparently making it a matter of ambition or ostentation to add a gallery of pictures to the other appendages of rank – guided simply by a love of art, and a wish to possess what is beautiful in itself, for its own sake, Lord Lansdowne has gradually collected" (Mrs A. Jameson, A Handbook to the Public Galleries of Art in London, 1844). Like a number of his contemporaries, he almost made the mistake of buying a collection of old masters from the dealer-peer Lord Radstock in 1810 which would at an instant have replenished the family collection. Fortunately he took advice from West, Lawrence & Beechey and graciously declined the offer. Instead he followed his own artistic inclinations and in the words of Mrs Jameson "gradually collected". He was to acquire major old master paintings including Murillo’s Don Justino de Neve (now in the National Gallery, London) and two of Rembrandt’s great paintings, the late Self Portrait (now in the Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood) and The Mill (National Gallery of Art, Washington), as well as contemporary British paintings by Collins, Callcott, Eastlake, Stanfield, and J.M.W. Turner.
His independence of judgement is best seen in his interest in later eighteenth century English art: an avant garde taste for the time. He had a particular admiration for Reynolds, who had painted his father William Petty Fitzmaurice, Earl of Shelburne (Mannings, no.1442, Bowood Collection) and he acquired this together with the portrait of his mother in Lady Ilchester and Her Two Children (Mannings, no.683) at Lady Thomond’s sale in 1821. The twelve other Reynolds’ paintings he acquired had no family connection but were bought simply as outstanding examples of his favourite artist’s oeuvres. At Lady Thomond's sale he also purchased A Young Girl with a Scarlett Muff and Lady Ilchester. Seven years later he managed to acquire the prime version of The Strawberry Girl from Lord Caryfort’s sale. In 1840, his friend Lord Holland bequeathed him Hope Nursing Love and in the same year he bought the Portrait of Horace Walpole (now at the National Portrait Gallery) and the Portrait of Lady Sarah Bunbury. The beautiful unfinished Kitty Fisher, which had eluded him in the Thomond Sale, was bought in 1846, and Lady Ridge in 1859. He also acquired Lawrence Sterne (now at the National Portrait Gallery), Garrick (Fulger Library, Washington) and Mrs Billington as St. Cecila.
His single greatest purchase, however, was arguably Mrs Baldwin; first glimpsed in the opening room of the British Institution in 1813 and bought immediately thereafter, it has ever since held pride of place in this celebrated collection. During the nineteenth century this portrait hung in the Drawing Room at Bowood, and it was here that it was seen by Dr Waagen. It hung amongst Lord Lansdowne's most prized possessions, including Rembrandt's The Mill (National Gallery of Art, Washington), Salvator Rosa's self portrait, and Cuyp's great view On the River Maas. Painted by Reynolds at the height of his power, it must have held an immediate appeal to Lansdowne as it brilliantly demonstrates Reynolds’s ability to meld portrait, fancy piece and history painting into one; a vision of an exotic female beauty wrapped in thought as well as layers of dazzling material. When the eminent Dr. Waagen confronted the painting in the Drawing Room at Bowood in 1850, he could only mouth "This is most remarkable…" ( Dr Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 1854, Vol.III, p.162).
Oil on canvas, in a fine early 19th century giltwood and plaster frame
Sir Joshua Reynolds
Royal Academy, 1782, no. 159 "Portrait of a Grecian Lady";
British Institution, 1813, no.25, lent by Richard Westall, R.A.;
Royal Academy, Exhibition of Works by the Old Masters and by Deceased Masters of the British School, 1884, no.205, lent by Henry, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne;
Agnew's, Loan Exhibition of the Lansdowne Collection in aid of the Royal National Institute of the Blind, 1954, no.1, lent by George, 8th Marquess of Lansdowne
141 by 110 cm., 55½ by 43¼ in.
Mrs A.Jameson, Companion to the Most Celebrated Private Galleries of Art in London, 1844, p.329;
Dr Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, 1854, Vol.III, p.160 "A Portrait of a Greek Lady, in her national costume, with black but very sunken eyes. This is most remarkable for the clear and warm colouring";
C.R.Leslie and T.Taylor, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1865, Vol.II, pp.350-51, 361-63;
The Athenaeum, 23rd February 1884, p.256;
G.E.Ambrose, Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures belonging to the Marquess of Lansdowne, K.G., at Lansdowne House, London and Bowood, Wiltshire, 1897, p.88, no.125, annotated with additional information by Henry, 6th Marquess of Lansdowne;
A.Graves and W.V.Cronin, History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1899, Vol.I, pp.44-5;
Sir Walter Armstrong, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1900, p.192;
E.K.Waterhouse, Reynolds, 1941, p.73;
H.L.Thrale, Thraliana - The Diary of Mrs Hester Lynch Thrale 1776-1809, edited by K.C. Balderston, 1942, Vol.I, p.530;
J. Miller, The Catalogue of Paintings at Bowood, 1982, p.15;
Aileen Ribeiro, The Dress worn at Masquerades in England 1730 - 1790, and its relation to Fancy Dress in Portraiture, 1984, p.232;
David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds - A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2000, Text Volume, p.70, no.100, Plates Volume, pl.107 and fig.1374
The artist's studio sale, Greenwood's, 3rd day, 16th April 1796, lot 31, unsold £37-16-0;
The Marchioness of Thomond, niece of the artist, from whom acquired privately by Richard Westall;
Richard Westall, R.A. (1765-1836), by whom sold, Philips, 1813, bt. Lord Lansdowne for 100 gns;
Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne (1780-1863);
Thence by family descent