The lady depicted in this fine portrait has for some considerable time been believed to be Anne Seymour-Damer, the sculptress. This however is not possible as the date of this picture is c.1750. Having come from the Giffard family collection of Chillington Hall it is possible that it depicts another member of the Seymour family as both appear to be connected by marriage from the early 17th century. It has also been suggested that it could depict Damer’s mother-in-law Lady Damer, née Lady Caroline Sackville (1718-1775); portrayed by both George Knapton and Pompeo Batoni similarities of physiognomy can be noted.
Either way, this is a striking and typical work for William Hoare who was at the time of this portrait a well known and hugely successful pastellist in Bath. George Vertue, the engraver and antiquary noted in 1749 that Hoare “has had better success than any other painter there before him”. Like Thomas Gainsborough, he was born in Suffolk, but had the advantage of nine years’ study in Rome, as well as influential patrons among the intelligentsia of London and Bath. This enabled him on his arrival in the city in 1738 to quickly find a niche in the growing portrait market, gaining prestigious commissions to draw and paint the leading political and literary figures of the day, many of whom came to Bath to recuperate. With little competition and great demand there was enough work available to keep both artists busy even after Gainsborough’s arrival in 1759.
The majority of his commissioned portraits represented head-and shoulder images, seemingly more common in pastel than oil and generally held in a ‘William Kent’ style frame as with the portrait presented here. Modestly-sized, these works were easily transportable for clients visiting Bath from London and the provinces.
Given that he spent most of his working life in Bath it is generally agreed that Hoare was the city’s foremost painter from 1740 onwards, even during Gainsborough’s seventeen-year residence. He exhibited widely and taught many of the younger artists who practiced in the city. He was also active in local affairs, holding the post of Governor of the Royal Mineral Water Hospital, which was founded soon after his arrival by his friends Ralph Allen and ‘Beau’ Nash. Exceptionally well read his classical education allowed him access to the learned Prior Park Circle, and acquaintance with such luminaries as Alexander Pope and Samuel Richardson. As he did not reside in London he played little part in the capital’s art establishment and therefore hardly exhibited there, until late in life, when he became a founder member of the Royal Academy, personally nominated by the King. His prolific output and influential clientele assure him an important place in British art, particularly if measured by the holdings in English stately homes.
I am grateful to the art historian Neil Jeffares for his views concerning this work following first hand inspection of the portrait