Maria Verelst (1680-1744)
The present work is a recently discovered version of the painting of Anne Blackett by Maria at Wallington Hall, and presents an exciting addition to her relatively little-known oeuvre...
Maria Verelst was arguably the greatest female immigrant artist of the late Stuart/early Georgian era and the present work is an important addition to her much neglected oeuvre.
Maria was the daughter of Dutch painter Herman Verelst (1641-1690) and niece of the more well-known Stuart court painter Simon Verelst (1644-1710). Maria moved to England at the age of three with her father following the siege of Vienna by the Ottoman Empire and, following her father’s success, later became his student. Well-connected and highly skilled, Maria established herself quickly and her earliest recorded painting dates to c. 1695, painted when Maria was fourteen, and depicts William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford (1626-1695) [Welbeck Abbey]. Maria painted several works for Welbeck as well as thirteen portraits for James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos (1673-1744), most probably for Cannons House which was completed in 1724.
As well as a talented painter, Maria was also well educated and spoke a number of different languages which no doubt helped her secure patronage. According to an anecdote published in 1730 Maria was once at Drury Lane theatre when she heard some gentlemen nearby praising her in German, she then turned to them and began conversing in the same language before the gentleman switched to Latin, Maria proceeded in Latin and the gentlemen were so impressed that they commissioned their portraits, and through their connections Maria supposedly built up a list of wealthy clientele.
Although there is no definitive catalogue of works by Maria, an unpublished manuscript in the National Portrait Gallery library compiled by an R.W. Goulding in c.1912 lists around forty works in private collections. This brief (and largely unconfirmed) catalogue suggests Maria worked in various sizes and mediums ranging from small oil on copper portraits to large full-lengths, and aptly painted copies of existing works as well as one-off commissions. We can therefore gauge that Maria was a highly diverse and talented painter, seen especially in the works on copper – traditionally a Dutch enterprise, as well as commercially shrewd.
Stylistically, Maria’s work follows the English eighteenth century tradition of portrait painting, epitomised by the likes of Kneller and Dahl and therefore has led to much confusion over authorship. On closer inspection however one notices how the highlighting on the draperies in Maria’s portraits are far more pronounced and brighter in tone, no doubt an influence from her uncle Simon Verelst, as seen in his portrait of Mary of Modena c.1675 [Philip Mould Ltd]. The present work also displays Maria’s masterful combination of elegant grandeur and refined form, more specifically in the way she brings the landscape through to the front perspective plane; her sitter seems to be not just sitting in, but immersed entirely in the natural setting, quite at odds with the work of Kneller whose landscapes play only a secondary, passive role to the sitter.
The present work is a recently discovered version of the painting of Anne Blackett by Maria at Wallington Hall, Northumberland and presents an exciting addition to her relatively little-known oeuvre. Anne was the daughter of Sir William Blackett (1657-1705) and Julia Conyers (c.1669-1722), and married firstly the publicist John Trenchard (1668/9-1723) and secondly the pamphleteer Thomas Gordon (d.1750). Anne’s father, Sir William Blackett was created a Baronet in 1685 by King James II and, following the Glorious Revolution of 1688, was offered employment by King William III at which point he built Wallington Hall. By Anne’s mother, Julia Conyers, daughter of Sir Christopher Conyers of Horden, they had nine children three of which died young. Anne married firstly John Trenchard (1668/9-1723), a wealthy landowner from Somerset and MP for Taunton, perhaps best known for his weekly periodical The Independent Whig published in 1720-21 along with friend Thomas Gordon (d.1750). Trenchard initially practiced Law before writing a number of opposing papers on the subject of standing armies employed by King William III. Given that the English Civil War was still fresh in the minds of some, the papers clearly struck a chord and had it not been for his family’s support of the king during the Glorious Revolution, he no doubt would have been taken into custody. When Trenchard died of kidney failure in 1723 Anne would have been left a significant fortune of money and land and the following year she married his friend and co-author Thomas Gordon, a pamphleteer and friend of Robert Walpole. Gordon is perhaps best known for his translation of Tacitus which he dedicated to the Prince of Wales and Walpole and which stayed in print until the end of the 18th century. Gordon held a very strong view on issues over corruption perhaps best seen in his publications The Case of Private and National Corruption and Bribery, The Conspirators and The Case of Catiline all published in 1721. Despite her two marriages, Anne left no issue.