This enchanting and exceptionally well-preserved portrait of the society beauty Lucy Hardinge by Sir Joshua Reynolds is one of the finest works by the artist to come to the market in a generation. Painted in 1778, it is a superb example of Reynolds’ celebrated female portraits from the decade in which he secured his reputation as the dominant artistic figure of the age of George III. The portrait has never previously been offered for sale, and has been part of the outstanding collections at Harewood House, Yorkshire, since the early 20th century.
As first President of the Royal Academy in London, Reynolds played a key role in raising the status of art and of artists in Britain in the second half of the 18th century. He is heralded for having transformed portraiture into an art form which had all the ambition, depth and vitality of history painting, while also conveying the psychology of the sitter. His famous Discourses on Art, which were delivered as lectures to students and members of the Academy between 1769 and 1790, had an enduring influence on art theory and criticism in Britain.
From the 1770s onwards, Reynolds’ exhibition submissions became increasingly dominated by female full-lengths, which ‘crafted a new imagery of the aristocratic beauty’ (M. Hallett, ‘Pall Mall Pastoral’, Reynolds: Portraiture in Action, New Haven and London, 2014, p. 253). Between 1773 and 1779, he exhibited 15 full-length female portraits, far more than any other kind of picture. Some of these were later engraved in mezzotint by Valentine Green and published in a series of ‘Beauties of the present age’, an open homage to the earlier series of ‘Beauties’ by Sir Peter Lely and Sir Godfrey Kneller in the Royal Collection (Hampton Court). This very public exposure and promotion of his art, at the Academy’s annual exhibitions and in printed form, helped fuel demand among the upper echelons of society, who scrambled to have their portraits painted by him.
Dating to 1778, this portrait was painted a little more than two years after the magnificent full-length Portrait of Mrs Richard Bennett Lloyd of 1775-76 (Mannings, op. cit., no. 1137), which will be on view at Christie’s King Street as part of the loan exhibition celebrating Christie’s 250th Anniversary (17 June – 15 July), and it dates to the same year as the mesmerising full-length of Jane, Countess of Harrington in the Huntington Art Collections, San Marino, California (fig. 1; Mannings, no. 1695). Jane, who served as a lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Charlotte, was the step-daughter of Edwin Lascelles, Lord Harewood, and a second full-length portrait of her by Reynolds hangs at Harewood (see below). The pose, three-quarter-length format and quiet sentiment of this portrait of Mrs Hardinge are close to that of Miss Sarah Campbell at the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, also painted in 1778 (Mannings, no. 305). Both sitters are shown looking to the left, elegantly dressed in gowns with billowing skirts and with their hair worn high and adorned with ribbons, in line with contemporary fashion.
The remarkable condition of this portrait allows for a full appreciation of Reynolds’ bravura technique. The artist was notoriously experimental with materials and techniques, and such was his preoccupation with surface effects – a result of his lifelong admiration for the Old Masters, particularly Titian and Rembrandt – that many of his pictures needed to be restored during his own lifetime. However, in this picture the paint texture and impasto, notably in the liquid glazes of her waist-band, and the tassel and beading on her dress, are beautifully preserved.
The sitter was the daughter and heiress of Richard Long of Hixton, Cambridgeshire, and married George Hardinge, judge, politician and author, on 20 October 1777. This portrait was almost certainly commissioned to mark that event: Reynolds’ ‘Pocket Books’ (his ‘Sitter Books’) record initial sittings in September and October 1777, and his ‘Ledger’ records a payment of 70 guineas in February 1778. Hardinge also commissioned a portrait of himself in the same year, which is now untraced (Mannings, no. 836).
A distinguished judge, Hardinge was appointed Solicitor- General to Queen Charlotte in 1782 and was later promoted to Attorney-General to the Queen, in 1794, a post he held until his death in 1816. He had political ambitions and became Member of Parliament for Old Sarum in 1784, supported by Thomas Pitt, 1st Baron Camelford; and was subsequently returned in 1787, 1790, 1796 and 1801. Hardinge was also a gifted author and his most significant works include Rowley and Chatterton in the Shades (1782), a series of letters to Edmund Burke (1791) and Some account of the life and writings of John Dryden (1800). A friend and correspondent of Horace Walpole, who shared his literary and antiquarian interests, Hardinge was both a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries (from 1769) and of the Royal Society (from 1788).
Soon after their marriage, the couple moved to Ragman’s Castle at Twickenham, close to Walpole’s Gothic Revival villa, Strawberry Hill, and to the poet Richard Owen Cambridge. However, the marriage was not a success; there were no children and the couple reputedly separated in later life. Hardinge adopted one of his nephews, George Nicholas Hardinge, son of his brother Henry, rector of Stanhope in County Durham, who had been killed in a naval action off Ceylon in 1808. Hardinge made another of his nephews, Charles, vicar of Tonbridge, his principal heir and executor. He left Lucy 100 guineas or a ring of the same value in his will, in addition to the settlement of £900 a year.
This portrait is specifically cited in Hardinge’s will, in which it is recorded as being in the possession of the artist Richard Cosway and is bequeathed to Lady Selsea (sic.), wife of Sir James Peachey, 1st Lord Selsey. This corrects an assumption made by Graves and Cronin (op. cit.) that the picture was ‘painted for Georgiana, Lady Pechey, afterwards, in 1794, Lady Sesley’, a conjecture repeated in all of the subsequent literature, including Mannings. The portrait then passed by descent to her granddaughter, Mrs Leveson-Vernon, and was inherited in turn by her cousin, Ulick John de Burgh, 1st Marquess of Clanricarde. It then passed by descent to Hubert George de Burgh-Canning, 2nd Marquess of Clanricarde and was bequeathed to his great-nephew, Henry George Charles Lascelles, 6th Earl of Harewood.
Tancred Borenius, in his Catalogue of the Pictures and Drawings at Harewood House compiled for the 6th Earl of Harewood, records that this portrait of Mrs George Hardinge was hung in the Gallery, alongside portraits by Gainsborough, Hoppner, Romney and other celebrated works by Reynolds already in the collection: namely a full-length of Edwin Lascelles, Lord Harewood (1712-1795), for whom Harewood House was built between 1759 and 1771, and who, in 1790 was created Baron Harewood; a half-length of his cousin and heir, Edward Lascelles, 1st Earl of Harewood (1740-1820), who was created Baron Harewood in 1796, and Viscount Lascelles and 1st Earl of Harewood in 1812; a double portrait of the latter’s wife, Anne, Lady Harewood, with their infant daughter, Frances; and exceptional full-lengths of Lady Worsley in a scarlet riding habit and Jane, Countess of Harrington, in a landscape (fig. 2; Mannings, nos. 189, 1087, 1088, 1035 and 1694 respectively). With the exception of the portraits of Edward Lascelles, and his wife and daughter, which were painted for the sitters, the remainder of the portraits in the Gallery had been commissioned by Edwin Lascelles.
In addition to portraits of himself and his wife Jane (which passed by descent to her daughter, Jane, and was later destroyed), and the aforementioned portraits of his stepdaughters (Lady Worsley and Jane, Countess of Harrington), Edwin commissioned a superb portrait of Mrs John Hale, whose sister, Anne married Edward Lascelles, afterwards 1st Earl of Harewood. Painted in 1762-64, the full-length of Mrs Hale, as Euphrosyne (Mannings, no. 801), was displayed in the Music Room designed by Robert Adam, flanked by Italianate capriccios by Antonio Zucchi.