Sir Francis Grant was the most fashionable portrait painter of his day, recording the likenesses of royalty, aristocracy, and many leading figures in politics, the legal and literary worlds, and the Church. His subjects included the Queen and Prince Albert, Palmerston, Disraeli, Lord John Russell, Sidney Herbert and Lord Derby, as well as Dr Sumner, Archbishop of Canterbury, Macaulay, Scott, and Scott's biographer John Gibson Lockhart. The artist Lady Waterford was among his female sitters. Grant also specialised in sporting subjects, or paintings in which portraits were given a sporting or equestrian context. Their titles alone - Breakfast Scene at Melton, The Meeting of His Majesty's Staghounds at Aston Heath, A Shooting Party at Rawton Abbey, Queen Victoria and Lord Melbourne riding in Windsor Park - speak for themselves.
The shape of Grant's career was determined by his social background and early interests. Born in Edinburgh on 18 January 1803, he was the fourth son of Francis Grant, laird of Kilgraston in Perthshire. There were family connections with the Earls of Seafield, and Grant was to marry a niece of the Duke of Rutland. Not surprisingly, as Sir Walter Scott recorded in 1831, Grant 'in youth was passionately fond of fox-hunting and other sports'. Later in life he lived at Melton Mowbray, in the heart of Leicestershire hunting country, where his friend and collaborator John Ferneley was also based.
Grant was educated at Harrow, and as a young man, having quickly run through an inheritance of £10,000, he had hopes of repairing his fortunes at the bar. However, to quote Scott again, 'law is not a profession so easily acquired, nor did Frank's talents lie in that direction. His passon for painting turned out better.' As an artist Grant was largely self-taught, learning by copying the Old Masters. He made his debut at the Royal Academy in 1834, when he was thirty-one, and he continued to exhibit there regularly until his death fourty-four years later, showing a total of 253 works in all and rapidly ascending the institutional ladder. Elected an associate in 1842 and a full member in 1851, he became president in 1866 on the death of Sir Charles Eastlake, the post having been refused by Landseer. A knighthood followed soon after as a matter of course. Grant himself was to be succeeded as president by Leighton, a man of very different temperament whom he disliked.
Grant was assiduous at painting his own family. The National Portrait Gallery has a self-portrait (fig. 1) and a full-length likeness of his distinguished younger brother, General Sir James Hope Grant, a hero of the Indian Mutiny and the two Chinese wars, as well as an accomplished cellist. (Francis Grant himself was almost tone deaf.) Numerous other family portraits are still in the possession of descendants at Biel, East Lothian. They include a likeness of the artist's eldest daughter, Mary Isabella, Lady Geary, who, to his great distress, died in 1854. The portrait was engraved in mezzotint by a fellow Scottish artist John Faed, and another version is in the Leicester Art Gallery. A portrait of Grant's son, Colonel Francis Grant, on his bay hunter 'Sportsman', was sold in these Rooms on 12 July 1990.
The present picture, one of Grant's masterpieces, represents his second daughter, Anne Emily Sophia, who was always known as Daisy. On 15 April 1857 she married William Thomas Markham of Becca Hall, Yorkshire. The eldest son of William Markham and his wife Lucy, daughter of William Holbech of Farnborough Hall, Yorkshire, William Markham served in the Rifle Brigade and the Coldstream Guards in the Crimean War, and was later a Captain in the Yorkshire Hussars and Lieutenant-Colonel of the 7th West Riding Volunteers (Land Rifles). He and Daisy had six sons and seven daughters, a typically large Victorian family, but it is perhaps not surprising that Daisy died on 20 July 1880, less than two years after her father.
The portrait is listed under 1857 in the artist's sitters book, and was no doubt painted to mark Daisy's marriage in April that year. Since it shows her standing in a snowy landscape, heavily caped and wearing a red flannel petticoat against the cold, we can assume that it was executed in the previous January or February. In anticipation of her marriage, Daisy is identified as 'Miss Grant (Mrs Markham)' in her father's sitters book, but the catalogue gave her married name when the portrait appeared at the Royal Academy that summer.
The picture was warmly received by the critics, albeit in terms which now seem unduly prim and coy. The Athenaeum thought it
full of grace and ladyhood. In any other hands (it)
would have been meretricious, with the gown just lifted, showing the tight-laced dainty foot and smart red-and-black petticoat, - yet it is in Mr Grant's hands perfectly quiet, pure and ladylike, only masculine enough to verify [sic] courage, spirit, and self-confidence.
Others liked the originality of the conception. 'This is a portrait', observed the Art Journal,
of a lady equipped for a winter walk in a 'wide-awake' and dark cloak. There is much more of pictorial quality in this treatment than if the subject had been presented in the costume of the drawing-room, with her hair à la Sermiramis.
Similarly, Tom Taylor, the art critic on the Times, hoped that the ladies will approve Mr Grant's deviation from established practice in painting 'Mrs Markham', equipped for a winter walk, in her felt hat, with linsey-woolsey tucked up, stout leather brodequins - if we may not call them boots - gallantly buttoning her gloves as she trips over snow - a stout-hearted, bright-faced, wind and weather defying Englishwoman. What a relief the winter landscape is from [the] inane conventionalities of rock, and wood, and sky.
In 1867 the portrait appeared at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where it won a gold medal and in 1873 it was re-exhibited at the Society of British Artists, winning praise from the Art Journal for its 'sweetness of expression'. There is said to be a glowing reference to the picture in Grant's obituary in the Daily Chronicle, and even his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography gives it prominence, observing that this portrait and that of Lady Waterford (1844) 'claim notice' among the artist's likenesses 'of ladies'. It is not hard to see why the picture has always been rated so highly.
Clearly painted con amore, it celebrates Grant's affection for his daughter on the eve of her marriage not only in terms of a sympathetic interpretation of character but a composition and colour harmony of astonishing simplicity and boldness. Art historians may one day place it in a fuller context. Could it perhaps owe something to Reynolds's portrait of little Miss Crewe, standing in a bleak winter landscape, austerely dressed in black and white (private collection; see Reynolds, exh. Grand Palais, Paris, and Royal Academy, London, 1985-6, cat. no. 98, illustrated in colour, p. 129)? And could it perhaps have inspired Leighton's dramatic portrait of May Sartoris, dating from about 1860, in which the sitter moves towards us through an autumnal landscape, the black of her feathered hat and riding habit relieved only by touches of white at her throat and wrists and the dazzling red of her scarf (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; see Victorian High Renaissance, exh. Manchester Art Gallery and elsewhere, 1978-9, cat. no. 42, illustrated in colour on front cover)?