Landseer, one of the most popular and precocious English artists of the nineteenth century, while best known for his paintings of animals, was also a gifted, albeit reluctant portraitist. Though he considered himself primarily a sporting artist, his portraits -- whether they were of family members hunting, or formal aristocratic images, or pictures of children and their pets and hobbies -- were highly sought-after by Landseer's patrons.
The present lot is an especially tender example of the artist's craft. In this case the subject, Lady Rachel Russell (1826-1898), may have had a special significance for Landseer. Rachel, the daughter of Georgina, the second wife of John, sixth Duke of Bedford (1792-1878), was rumored to have been Landseer's and the Duchess' child. While this gossip was never substantiated, Landseer was from 1823 a frequent visitor to Woburn Abbey, the Duke and Duchess's home, and painted her on several occassions. Whatever the true nature of their relationship, they remained close until the Duchess's death in Nice in 1853.
Landseer's oil sketch of the young Rachel expresses a pyschological intimacy and stylistic freedom seldom seen in his highly finished formal portraits.