Emma Assheton-Smith, Mrs Robert Scott of Danesfield (d.1834)
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Three-quarter length oil portrait of Mrs Emma Scott of Danesfield. She is shown seated against a background of trees and roses to the right, and an open landscape with trees and sky to the left. She wears a white silk tight-waisted dress with a full skirt, gauze fichu and a blue sash; powder in her hair and a wide-brimmed hat with a blue ribbon. She holds beige kid gloves in her right hand, which also has a ring, and leans on a block with her left elbow. She looks down diagonally left. To the left, there is a small King Charles spaniel looking up at her, with one paw raised.
Emma Assheton Scott was the wife of Robert Scott who bought the estate of Danesfield, near Medmenham, Bucks, in 1787. Joshua Reynolds painted both Emma and her husband. Rather than drawing on classical mythology or religious symbolism to elevate his sitter, Reynolds used simple imagery to depict a faithful, beautiful wife.
The portrait was made four years into their marriage. Emma had eleven sittings with Reynolds over three months. The white colour of the dress, suggesting purity and chastity, is accompanied by the prominent ring, a symbol of Emma's commitment to her husband. The small dog not only adds a lively note to the scene, it is also an ancient symbol of fidelity.
Reynolds used a palate of white and greys and did not distinguish much between the different textures of textiles and hair. Some modern commentators have seen this as a failure, describing the painting as 'utterly unsculptural'. However, the strong diagonal of the hat as well as the rhythms created by the creams in the dog's fur, Emma's dress, and the rose in the tree, give a gentle sense of dynamism to the painting, matching the image of calm wifely virtue.
The simplicity of this portrait and the muted colours indicate that Reynolds was influenced by the minimal approach of the works of George Romney. Romney's portraits had become very fashionable by the early 1780s, partly because he charged significantly less for a portrait than either Thomas Gainsborough or Reynolds.
Robert Scott inherited a very large fortune from his father, also Robert (d. 1771) of Lauder, Co. Berwick. He had acquired it through commerce. Emma was the daughter of Thomas Assheton (Assheton-Smith after 1773), of Ashley Hall, Bowden, Cheshire. The couple had no children. Emma is buried at Medmenham. Reynolds's portrait of Robert is now lost.
Phillippa Plock, 2011
Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)
1255 x 1003 - sight
Signature & date
not signed or dated
[R.A. Exhibition label from 1891 with address =] Mrs. Wedgwood, / Stanton Court, / Broadway, / Worcestershire
on verso, red print
Mrs Scott of / Danesfield the Aunt / of J. Assheton Smith
on verso, pen and ink
- Owned by Mrs Emma Scott of Danesfield (d.1834); inherited by her niece Frances Crewe (d.1845); inherited by her husband Robert Wedgewood of Stanton Court, Broadway, Worcs. (b.1806, d.1881); inherited by his second wife Mary Halsey Wedgewood (active c. 1845-1900); sold by Mary Halsey Wedgewood in or after 1891 to Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild ( b.1839, d.1898); inherited by his sister Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1957.
- British Institute, 1833, London, no. 35, as 'Portrait of a lady', lent by Mrs Scott
- Royal Academy Exhibition, 1891, London, no. 35, lent by Mrs Robert Wedgewood
- B.F.A.C. Winter 1936-37, London, no. 2 lent by James A. de Rothschild
- Arts Council, 1949, London, no. 19 lent James A. de Rothschild
- Waddesdon (National Trust)
- Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957
- Algernon Graves, William Vine Cronin; A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds; 4 vols; London; Henry Graves; 1899-1901; vol. 3, p. 871.
- A H Plaisted; The Manor and Parish Records of Medmenham; London; Longmans, Green, and Co; 1925; pp. 141-142, ill.
- Ellis Waterhouse; Reynolds; London; Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd.,; 1941; p. 78, p;. 265.
- Ellis Waterhouse, The English Pictures at Waddesdon Manor, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 49-56; p. 54, fig. 2.
- Sir Francis Watson, The Art Collections at Waddesdon Manor I: The Paintings, Apollo, 69, June 1959, 172-182; p. 175, fig. 5.
- Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; p. 84, cat. no. 30 ill.
- Malcolm Cormack, The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds, The Walpole Society, 42, 1968-1970, 105-69; pp. 163-4.
- Desmond Shawe-Taylor; The Georgians: Eighteenth-Century Portraiture & Society; London; Barrie & Jenkins; 1990; p. 125.
- Stephanie Tasch; Studien zum weiblichen Rollenporträt in England von Anthonis van Dyck bis Joshua Reynolds; Weimar; Verlagll. Datenbank fuer Geisteswisswenchafter; 1999; p. 389, fig. 111.
- David Mannings, Martin Postle; Sir Joshua Reynolds: a Complete Catalogue of his Paintings; 2 vols; London; Yale University Press; 2000; p. 408, no. 1593.
- Sally Strutt; A History of the Culden Faw Estate; Northamptonshire; Sally Strutt; 2013; ill.
- Mrs Emma Scott of Danesfield, Sitter
Person as Subject
- Nature, Landscape & The Elements/Flowers/Rose
- Nature, Landscape & The Elements/Countryside
- Nature, Landscape & The Elements/Trees & Plants
- Nature, Landscape & The Elements/Clouds
- Objects/Clothing & Personal Effects/Gloves
- Allegory & Personifications/Fidelity
- Objects/Clothing & Personal Effects/Jewellery
- Everyday Life/Relationships/Courtship & Marriage