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    Sale 7633

    Old Master & British Pictures (Day Sale)

    3 December 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 182

    Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A. (Plympton Devon 1723-1792 London)

    Portrait of Mrs Wells, three-quarter-length, seated, in a striped dress and straw hat

    Price Realised  


    Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A. (Plympton Devon 1723-1792 London)
    Portrait of Mrs Wells, three-quarter-length, seated, in a striped dress and straw hat
    oil on canvas
    50½ x 40½ in. (128.2 x 102.9 cm.)

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    The sitter, who was the daughter of Thomas Davies, a woodcarver from Birmingham, was a well known actress who appeared in productions at the Haymarket, Drury Lane, Covent Garden and the Royalty theatres, who the diarist Madame D'Arblay described as 'extremely beautiful'. In 1778 she married Ezra Wells, who was to desert her, after which she became the mistress of Captain Edward Topham, of Yorkshire, with whom she had four children. Topham, who was educated at Eton and Cambridge, had initially followed a military career, but later led the life of a man of Letters and the Theatre, as well as a breeder of champion greyhounds. Topham met Mrs Wells, who was famous for her imitations of other performers after she had requested that he write an epilogue for her benefit and he used his position as publisher of the daily newpaper The World, which was filled with wit, poetry, drama and scandal, and became extremely popular, to further her career. However, Topham later abandoned her, after which she married Joseph Haim Sumbell, in 1797, whom she had met in Fleet Prison. She published an autobiography Memoirs of the Life of Mrs Sumbel, Late Wells in 1811.

    Mrs Wells sat to Sir Joshua Reynolds for this portrait in 1787/8 and the artist's ledgers indicate that a total of seventy-five guineas was paid for the portrait (Mannings, op.cit.). Reynolds shows Mrs Wells in a brown and silver striped dress with a white gauze apron with a fashionable wide-brimmed straw hat decorated with large bows.

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    No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.


    The Rt. Hon. E. P. Bouverie, by 1875.
    H. G. Marquand, New York.
    Marquand sale, New York, 23 Jan 1903, lot 34, as by Romney.
    Sir [R?] Cooper, and by inheritance to the present owner.

    Pre-Lot Text



    A. Graves and W. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds P.R.A, London, 1899, III, p. 1043.
    H. Ward and W. Roberts, Romney, A Biographical and Critical Essay, with a Catalogue Raisonne of his Works, London and New York, 1904, p. 169, as by Romney.
    D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, London, 2000, I, p. 466, no. 1854, II, fig. 1526.


    London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of the works of the Old Masters, 1875, no. 29, as by Romney, lent by the Rt. Hon. E. P. Bouverie.