Originally from Berkshire, William Hoare undertook his initial training in London with the Flemish painter Giuseppe (Jean-Pierre) Grisoni (1699-1769). In 1728 he accompanied Grisoni when the latter decided to return to Rome where Hoare remained for ten years. During this period he began to specialise in pastel portraiture, inspired by artists of the Venetian School, such as Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757); Evelyn Newby, however, has argued that in fact Hoare's work is stylistically closer to that of Benedetto Luti (1666-1724) (E. Newby, William Hoare of Bath R.A.: 1707-1792, exhibition catalogue, Victoria Art Gallery, Bath, 1990, p. 10).
Shortly after his return to England in 1738, Hoare moved to Bath, where he established a successful career, executing works for Henry Herbert, 9th Earl of Pembroke (1693-1750) and Charles Noel Somerset, 4th Duke of Beaufort (1709-1756). Later patrons would include Ralph Allen (1693-1764), Alexander Pope (1688-1744) and Richard 'Beau' Nash (1674-1762). As a measure of Hoare's social standing in the city, he was appointed as one of the Councillors of the Royal Mineral Water Hospital from the date of its foundation in 1742. The present watercolour is probably datable to circa 1760, at which point Hoare was at the height of his professional and social success.
Hoare was respected by his peers not only for his own qualities, but also for his ability to recognise talent in others. In 1780, Fanny Burney (1752-1840) noted that Hoare had taken the eleven-year-old Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) under his wing, planning to send him to Italy in the company of his own son and at his own expense. When Hoare died, at the age of 85, a magnificent monument in Bath Abbey was erected to his memory, designed by George Dance (1741-1825) and with sculpture executed by Francis Chantrey (1781-1841) (Newby, op. cit., p. 13).
The present portrait of an unknown lady has traditionally been attributed to Francis Cotes (1726-1770), but shows characteristic marks of Hoare's style in the definition given to locks of hair, the rounder, broader shape of the sitter's face and the treatment of the highlights in her eyes. The technique of representing lace, with marked underdrawing, is also quite different to Cotes's technique, as may be noted by comparing the present pastel with lot 3.