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Portrait of Lady Rodney [née Anne Harley]

Thomas Gainsborough, English, 1727 - 1788

Made in Great Britain, Europe


Oil on canvas

50 1/4 × 39 7/8 inches (127.6 × 101.3 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 377, European Art 1500-1850, third floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928

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The subject of this portrait is Anne Harley, daughter of a former lord mayor of London. In April 1781 she married the eldest son of the naval hero Lord Rodney. It has been suggested that the portrait was painted some months after the marriage, and that Anne's delicate gesture of lifting her train to her stomach signals pregnancy and deep contentment at approaching motherhood.

Additional information:
  • PublicationBritish Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    Roberts (1917), following The Athenaeum of February 22, 1890, and Christie's catalogue of June 3, 1893, identified the sitter in this portrait as Henrietta Lady Rodney (c. 1739-1829), wife of the naval hero Admiral Sir George Brydges Rodney, Lord Rodney (c. 1719-1793). In fact, however, as Waterhouse (1958) has shown, she is Anne, second of the five daughters of Rt. Hon. Thomas Harley (1730-1804), alderman of the city of London, lord mayor of London in 1768, and brother of the Earl of Oxford. She was born on May 13, 1758, and died in 1840. On April 10, 1781, she married Lord Rodney’s eldest son, George (1753-1802), at which time her father presented her with a great house, Berrington, in Herefordshire (National Trust). Her husband, a captain of a company in the third regiment of foot guards, a lieutenant colonel in the army, and a Member of Parliament for Northampton, succeeded to the title on the death of his father in 1793. They had eleven sons and one daughter.1

    That George and Anne should have married was the dearest wish of their fathers. Admiral Rodney wrote to his son George on September 26, 1780, from the frigate Sandwich off New York: "When you see Mr. Harley who is very [near?close?] acquaintance remember me to him, and my dear Geo. if your heart is touched by either of his daughters indulge the flame she is of a great and noble family."2 George took the hint and set to work at once. On February 12, 1781, again from the Sandwich, moored off Saint Eustatius in the West Indies, Rodney wrote to his wife: "My son has acquainted me with his attachment, and Mr. Harley has written me a very flattering letter upon the occasion. You may be sure I will do every thing in my power to make him happy";3 and two days later, on February 14, he wrote to George that he would be sending back a convoy from the West Indies with spoils amounting to one million pounds, and concluded: “My love attends your intended consort that every happiness may attend you is the sincerest prayer of him who will ever prove himself, my dear Geo. Your most affection[ate] friend and father."4 Then, on October 12, 1781, Rodney wrote (perhaps a bit too effusively) to Thomas Harley: "My dear Sir, Nothing could have given me greater pleasure than the letter you honour'd me with, I have not a doubt but my son will prove himself such a son in law, as your great partiality for him can desire; I shall always look upon myself as highly Honour'd by the noble alliance and will do everything in my power towards the making my son and Miss Harley happy. There is nothing that can be pointed out but I shall be ready at a moments warning to comply with. My sons happiness is nearer my heart than anything in this life, his happiness will greatly contribute to mine, his virtue and affection demands all my attention and he shall have it....I dispatch with all the haste possible to England, a letter of attorney to empower him to receive the pension H[is] M[ajesty] has so graciously bestowed upon my family.''5

    This is one of a pair of portraits commissioned by Alderman Harley of two of his daughters. The pendant shows the eldest daughter, Martha (1757-1788), who on November 30, 1779, married George Drummond of Stanmore (d. 1789), a senior partner of Drummonds's Bank (Thomas Gainsborough,Martha Harley {Mrs. George Drummond}, oil on canvas, 49 1/2 x 39 1/2” {125.7 x 100.3 cm.} South Africa, Natalie Labia Collection). Both sisters are dressed in modified Van Dyck costume: identical low-cut blue silk gowns with white muslin sleeves, edged with gold and trimmed at the bust and waist with pearls. Both sisters wear their hair in powder. But there are important differences as well. Anne is shown standing with the train of her dress held with her right arm to her waist, while in her left she draws a gauze scarf to her bosom, a pose reminiscent of a portrait now attributed to the studio of Van Dyck, Lady Penelope Naunton (Studio of Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), Lady Penelope Naunton, oil on canvas, 45 5/8 x 35 5/8” {116 x 90.6 cm.}, London, Dulwich Picture Gallery). Her sister Martha is seated, looking out at us, a drawing in her right hand, sketchbooks, a pen, and fragments of sculpture at her side, to reveal that she had her artistic side.

    Waterhouse dated both portraits to 1779/80, at the time of Martha’s marriage, but this may be several years too early. It is possible, although unprovable, that the picture of Anne was commissioned about the time of her marriage to George Rodney on April 10, 1781, the traditional time for young women to sit in the eighteenth century. If so, Anne's gesture and pose may also help us to date the portrait more precisely. The first of her many children, George, was born on June 18, 1782, so she became pregnant in September 1781. If we assume that she was enceinte while sitting to Gainsborough, her otherwise meaningless, slightly stiff gestures become significant and graceful. She rests her right hand on her belly, while her left hand touches her breast, a motion by which she gently and subtly alludes to her condition, while at the same time cleverly concealing with the train of her gown her burgeoning waist. Roberts (1917) called attention to her "dreamy eyes" and ''enigmatical smile," which he interpreted as manifestations of an exotic sensuality, but which may instead reveal contentment at her approaching motherhood.

    Alderman Harley commissioned a third family picture from Gainsborough, a full-length portrait of his daughter's new father-in-law, his friend Admiral Lord Rodney (90 x 58", Dalmeny, Lord Rosebery Collection). Waterhouse dated it to 1783-86, and, in any case, it must have been after the admiral's return from his victory at the Battle of Dominica in the West Indies on April 12, 1782.6

    Richard Dorment, from British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Century (1986), pp. 128-130.

    1. Sir Egerton Brydges, ed., Collin’s Peerage of England (London, 1812), vol. 7, p. 568.
    2. Quoted in a letter from Christopher Harley to the author, January 8, 1980.
    3. Godfrey Basil Mundy, The Life and Correspondance of the the Late Admiral Lord Rodney (London, 1830), vol. 2, p. 26.
    4. Quoted in a letter from Christopher Harley to the author, January 8, 1980.
    5. Ibid.
    6. Ellis K. Waterhouse. Gainsborough. London, 1958, p. 87, no. 583.

    "Fine Arts," The Athenaeum, no. 3252 (February 22, 1890), p. 249; William Roberts. Memorials of Christie's: A Record of Art Sales from 1766 to 1896. 2 vols. London, 1897, vol. 2, p. 213; Walter Armstrong. Gainsborough and His Place in English Art. London and New York, 1898, p. 201; Walter Armstrong. Gainsborough and His Place in English Art. Rev. ed. London, 1904, p. 278; William Roberts. "English Pictures in America." The Nineteenth Century, September 1913, pp. 534-42, p. 539; William Roberts. Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures Formed by John H. McFadden, Esq., of Philadelphia, Pa. London, 1917, p. 17, repro. opp. p. 17 (as ''Henrietta Lady Rodney"); Mcfadden, 1917, repro. p. 109; William Roberts. "Recent Additions to Mr. McFadden's Collection." Art in America, vol. 6, no. 2 (February 1918), pp. 108-17; Ella S. Siple. "Art in America: Philadelphia's New Museum." The Burlington Magazine, vol. 52, no. 302 (May 1928), p. 255, repro. p. 246; The Philadelphia Museum Bulletin, vol. 37, no. 193 (March 1942), repro. p. 28; Ellis K. Waterhouse. Gainsborough. London, 1958, p. 87, no. 584; Allen Staley. "British Painting from Hogarth to Alma Tadema." Apollo, n.s., vol. 100 (July 1974), p. 35, repro. p. 34.
  • PublicationPhiladelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections

    Along with Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough was the leading portraitist of eighteenth-century English society. His handling of thin paint brilliantly applied, his ravishingly elegant costumes, and the wit and sophistication with which he endowed his sitters ensured him a steady stream of clients. His subject here is Anne Harley, a daughter of a former lord mayor of London. In April 1781 she married the eldest son of the naval hero Lord Rodney, who would succeed to his father's title in 1793. It has been suggested that the portrait was painted some months after the marriage, and that Anne's delicate gesture of lifting her train to her stomach and her sensual smile signal pregnancy and deep contentment at approaching motherhood. Gainsborough painted a pendant portrait (private collection) of Anne's sister Martha, Lady George Drummond, wearing a similar elegant, low-cut gown of blue silk that is trimmed with pearls. Christopher Riopelle, from Philadelphia Museum of Art: Handbook of the Collections (1995), p. 183.

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