Oil painting on panel. Mary Palmer, Lady Beauchamp-Proctor (1759-1847) sacrificing to Hymen (after Benjamin West PRA) by John Downman, RA (Ruabon, North Wales 1750 – Wrexham 1824), signed: (possibly a later addition): J. Downman fecit 17.. [1778?] For Rd. [?] [Mrs?] Wells (the date can no longer be distinguished, and the initials are unclear). A three-quarter-length portrait of a young woman, turned to the right, almost right profile, with brown hair dressed high with large ringlet on her right shoulder, wearing a white satin dress, with brown cloak. She is decorating a herm of Hymen with flowers, assisted by Cupid; a classical altar in the right foreground.
This is a reduced copy of the painting on canvas by Benjamin West, signed and dated 1778, which is in Tate Britain. It was mezzotinted by James Watson and published by Boydell, 25 March 1779 (Helmust von Erffa & Allen Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West, New Haven & London, 1986, no.591, p.490 & fig.). Staley & von Erffa, who were unaware of the present picture, mention another reduced copy on a smaller panel, 11” x 9 ½“, sold at Puttick & Simpson, 30 May 1932, lot 25.
Were it not for the signature, one would accept this as being an autograph reduction. The explanation is, however, that Downman had been a pupil of West’s in 1768 ff. (And painted a copy of Raphael’s Madonna della sedia for him when he was in Italy in 1773-75, and exhibited a portrait of him at the RA in 1777, calling him “my most beloved teacher” on the drawing for this in the Butleigh Court sketchbook (Williamson, p.Lii). Downman was in Cambridge in 1777-78, and from 1779 in London. He had already made a drawing that he described as of: “Sir Thomas Beauchamp Proctor Baronet, 1777, of Christ’s College, Cambridge, for Lord Euston” (ibid, p.Li presumably at Cambridge; it seems very likely that he made this copy of West’s portrait of his new wife either on a journey to Norfolk after the picture had been delivered, or in London before it had left the artist’s studio. In either case, despite the inscription (which may refer to the subsequent recipient of the picture only), it seems very likely that it was made for Watson to scrape his comparably-sized mezzotint from, when the original was at Langley Park.
Perhaps the recipient was the Richard Wells of Philadelphia, who is said to have given Benjamin West an introduction to his stepfather and mother, Mr & Mrs Robert Crafton, of whom West had painted a - for him virtually unique - conversation-piece in 1773 (Von Erffa & Staley, No.606, p.499 & col. Pl. P.32)? This somehow seems more likely than that the recipient should have been the actress, Mrs Wells, of whom there is a drawing of 1787 as one of the Merry Wives of Windsor (ibid. P.Lxi), and of whom Edwin Downman exhibited a picture as Cowslip and Lingo in The Agreeable Surprise at the RA in 1788.
Makers and roles
John Downman, RA (Ruabon, North Wales 1750 – Wrexham 1824)
after Benjamin West PRA (Swarthmore 1738 - London 1820), artist