Jane Pomeroy (b.1787)
Jane Pomeroy (b.1787)
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Oil on canvas; 30 by 25ins; 76 x 64cm; inscription on reverse; held in a period gilt frame
Provenance: Probably John, 4th Viscount Harberton; Sir Hugo Cunliffe-Owen (1870-1947), Sunningdale Park, Berkshire; Private Collection
Sir Martin Archer Shee was born in Dublin in December 1769 and studied at the city’s Royal Society Schools from 1781-83, where he was awarded medals for both landscape and portraiture. After leaving the Academy he practiced as a portrait painter principally in pastel, taking his sitters from Dublin society and establishing himself as a portraitist of renown by the tender age of sixteen. In 1788, on the advice of the American portrait painter Gilbert Stuart, who was in Ireland at the time, Shee travelled to London where, after some initial setbacks he met Joshua Reynolds and enrolled at the Royal Academy Schools. Concentrating on oils and initially producing historical works, he moved first into Sir Thomas Lawrence’s old studio in Jermyn Street and later George Romney’s in Cavendish Square, where he rapidly established himself as a much respected and highly successful society portrait painter undertaking commissions for the royal family. He became an ARA in November 1798 and an RA in February 1800. On the death of Lawrence in 1830, Shee was knighted and succeeded him as President of the Royal Academy. Aside from his considerable artistic skills, Shee was further known as a poet, novelist, critic and writer on art. He wrote ”Elements of Art” in 1805, ”Commemoration of Reynolds and other poems” in 1814 and two full length novels in 1829 and 1834. Byron was clearly sympathetic to his literary outings and mentions him in ”English Bards and Scotch Reviewers”.
The portrait presented here is a fascinating example of his earlier work. Executed in the mid 1790s it shows all the bravura confidence of youth combined with a precise understanding of the medium with which he was working. Compared with his later work which became rather too derivative, this portrait displays a liveliness of approach and an individuality of style that was quite distinct; the bright palette; the use of impasto; the broad, sometimes vigorous, brushstrokes; though indebted to fellow artist’s styles, particularly Hoppner and Reynolds, it strikingly demonstrates a move forward to a more modern way of portrait painting. Shee can be seen to have adopted a similar approach in the state portrait of the Duke of Clarence (William IV) and the Self-Portrait, 1794 both in the National Portrait Gallery, London. As Shee’s career progressed he seems to have been adversely influenced by his contemporaries, particularly Lawrence, resulting in his work being somewhat unfairly criticized and his presidency of the R.A. suggested as being more to do with politics than talent. It could arguably be said that his most exciting and innovative paintings were created when he was establishing himself during the first decade or so of moving to London.
The sitter, Jane Pomeroy, was the eldest child of Reverend John Pomeroy, 4th Viscount Harberton (1758-1833) and Esther Spencer (d.1840). Unfortunately little is recorded of her life possibly due to the fact that she died unmarried, presumably at a young age. It seems quite likely that this portrait was executed by the Irish Viscount on a visit to London, and no coincidence that the commission should be undertaken by a Dublin born artist of some renown. The Pomeroy family seem to have left Engesdon, near Harberton, Devon for Ireland in the late 17th century and when elevated to the Irish peerage in 1783 took the title derived from that English west country town.