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Feb 19, 2013

Portrait of Sukey, Lady Oglander, née Serle

Portrait of Sukey, Lady Oglander, née Serle

c. 1770s

John I Smart

(British, 1741-1811)

Graphite and wash on laid paper

Support: Card

Framed: 7.7 x 6.5 cm (3 1/16 x 2 9/16 in.); Unframed: 5.4 x 3.8 cm (2 1/8 x 1 1/2 in.)

The Edward B. Greene Collection 1941.567

Location

Did you know?

Sketches helped John Smart work out the particulars of a portrait before commencing the miniature on ivory, and they were useful in the event that a duplicate might later be required.

Description

Although it is impossible to say if it was always part of the artist’s process to execute a preparatory sketch prior to painting each miniature, we do know that John Smart retained many hundreds of these sketches. A group of preparatory sketches—of which this portrait is one—descended through the Smirke family after Smart’s daughter Sarah gave a sketchbook containing preparatory portrait studies to her friend Mary Smirke, sister of the celebrated Victorian architect Sydney Smirke. This book was probably broken up around 1877 when it was divided between Sydney’s daughters Mary Jemmett and Mrs. Lange, whose portions were both sold at auction in 1928.
G. C. Williamson was the first to suggest that Smart’s sketches were well known and that they were preparatory studies for the painted miniatures. Williamson listed the names of sitters from the sketches known to him at the time, and they include Lady Oglander. This portrait was assigned the historically colorful but fictitious title of “Duchess of Bourbon” at some point after memory of its true identity had been lost. Giving illustrious titles to portraits of unknown sitters was a popular strategy adopted by dealers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, often applied to miniature portraits and, in particular, to Smart’s sketches of women. However, when the paper backing was removed from this miniature, the name Lady Oglander was discovered written twice in graphite on the back. The lower inscription seems to have been reinforced or written later and is probably not in the artist’s hand.
Compared to his contemporaries George Engleheart (1752–1829) and Andrew Plimer (1763–1837), whose female sitters were often painted in similar simple white gowns, Smart often lavished more attention on the costumes in his portraits of women, whose dresses incorporated colored silks, printed fabrics, and luxury trimmings like lace and fur, as seen here. The sitter’s head and shoulders face right, and her light hair is dressed high, with flat curls at the back of her head. She has gray eyes and wears a lavender surcoat trimmed with ermine, over a turquoise blue, low-necked dress and white underslip bordered with lace; the ermine trim confirms that the sitter was a titled lady. Smart placed her inside a faintly suggested oval, and the background is unpainted.
Sukey, Lady Oglander (née Serle, d. 1805), married Sir William Oglander, 5th Baronet of Nunwell (1733–1806), in 1765. She was the only daughter of Peter Serle of Testwood, Hants, and delighted the Oglander family by bringing £10,000 to the marriage. Sukey had eleven children with William, eight of whom survived childhood. The Oglanders were a prominent and well-loved family on the Isle of Wight, their presence on the island first dating from the time of
William the Conqueror and lasting until the title expired in 1874 when the last Oglander Baronet of Nunwell died.
This preparatory sketch somewhat resembles a miniature on ivory of the same size that sold at Christie’s, London, in 2000. The sitter’s name is unknown, but she wears a nearly identical green wrap gown and underslip and a lavender surcoat, though it is trimmed with brown fur rather than ermine. Her coiffure is similar to that in the preparatory sketch as well, though in the ivory her hair is ornamented with pearls. The facial features, however, differ, with the sketch representing an older woman having somewhat coarser features. While the portrait may have been idealized in the finished ivory version, it is also possible that the sketch was employed primarily for the costume and depicts another sitter entirely.
Daphne Foskett lists among Smart’s work portraits of a Dr. John Oglander and a Lady and Miss Oglander. A preparatory sketch by Smart of a Mr. Oglander sold at Christie’s, London, on June 10, 2010. Another preparatory sketch titled Portrait of John Oglander, Warden of New College, Oxford, was sold at Bonhams, London, on October 30, 2001. These sketches are approximately the same size as Cleveland’s Lady Oglander and may have been commissions related by date or patron. The sale of Smart drawings inherited by W. H. Bose and sold at Christie’s, London, in 1937 included a “Head of Miss Oglander,” “sister to Sir John Oglander of the Isle of Wight,” but this lot was not illustrated, and its relationship to the sketch discussed here is unknown. John Oglander, Warden of New College, Oxford, was the brother-in-law of Sukey, Lady Oglander, and Miss Oglander was probably her sister-in-law Susannah Oglander (d. 1816).

See also
Collection: 
DR - British
Department: 
Drawings
Type of artwork: 
Portrait Miniature

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