Materials: Oil on canvas
Measurements: 132.5 x 101.6 cm
Inv. no. P32
A tender representation of motherhood, this portrait represents Susanna Hoare (1743–1795) cradling her young daughter. Susanna was the daughter of Robert Dingley (1709–1781) of Lamb Abbey, Eltham, who was a successful merchant, as well as a member of the Society of Dilettanti, the Society of Antiquaries and the Royal Society. He was also a philanthropist, taking an active interest in charitable causes. He was governor, and later inspector, of the Foundling Hospital and a founder of the Magdalene Charity Hospital for Penitent Prostitutes.
In 1762, Susanna married Richard Hoare (died 1777) of Boreham House, Chelmsford, who was a partner in Hoare’s bank. Following her marriage, Reynolds painted his first portrait of Susanna, in which she was portrayed playing a lute-like instrument.
Though Reynolds’s sitters book for 1763 is missing, it is likely this portrait was painted mostly in that year, as only a single sitting with Susanna was recorded in 1764, on 6 January. It is likely Reynolds was chosen to paint this second portrait because of his ability to paint children with great sensitivity, as seen, for example, in Miss Jane Bowles.
The painting shows Susanna seated in a densely wooded landscape embracing her daughter, also named Susanna. She holds the child, swaddled in white cotton, in her arms, while gazing into her eyes. The child returns the gaze and reaches out to touch her mother’s face. Susanna has her hair tied loosely in a bun and wears a white Indian cotton dress decorated with gold patterns, of a type that was popular at the time the portrait was made.
For the painting’s setting and the arrangement of the figures, Reynolds derived his inspiration from Renaissance imagery of the Virgin and Child, which he frequently sketched while travelling in Italy. A drawing by Ludovico Cigoli (1559–1613) of the Holy Family, now in the British Museum but formerly in Reynolds’s personal collection, bears a particularly striking resemblance to the portrait.
The overall pose of the sitters, and the way the child reaches out to his mother, also echoes a painting by Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) of the Virgin and Child in the Royal Collection, a copy of which is in the Wallace Collection.
Reynolds primed the canvas with a pink layer before giving it a beige ground, on top of which he painted in the outline of both sitters. Blue-grey underpaint were used to model areas of flesh, and areas of drapery were sketched in. The background was painted using Reynolds’s typical combination of paints and glazes.
X-rays have shown that Reynolds made some alterations to the composition. Initially, it seems, Reynolds painted the child with its right arm over the drapery, with four fingers visible, its thumb tucked into the fabric.
Later, the artist partially overpainted the child’s arm with drapery. Alterations were also made to the position of the child’s head and Susanna’s profile, shoulders and right arm, which was moved to a lower position. The higher positioning of this arm can be made out through faded paint layers between the child’s head and its mother’s shoulder.
Reynolds worked up a full-size sketch of the painting, presumably to hone those areas of the composition he was adjusting, which is now at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
The painting remained in Susanna’s family until 1859, when it was sold at auction to the 4th Marquess of Hertford (1800–1870).
Text adapted from Davis, L., 'Mrs Susannah Hoare and Child', in Davis, L., and M. Hallett, Joshua Reynolds. Experiments in Paint, London, 2015, no. 19.