Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Elizabeth Carter (1717-1806), Scholar and writer

Painting by William Fayram, half length as Minerva, her hand resting on a volume of Plato. Two versions, both in private collections, one formerly with Lord Treowen. The attribution is based on the association of the portrait with the poem by Alcaeus, ‘To Miss Carter’s being drawn in the Habit of Minerva, with Plato in her Hand’ which begins with the line: ‘Say, Fayram, say, whose is th’enliv’ning face,’ (Gentleman's Magazine, XI, 1741, p 271).

Painting by Joseph Highmore, three-quarter length standing, a book in her left hand; two allegorical figures behind may represent fame and learning. Deal Town Hall, presented by the sitter’s nephew, the Rev Montagu Pennington, 1815. Exhibited Johnson, Arts Council, 1984, no.15. Mrs Barrett, a direct descendant of the sitter, said the date of portrait was 1738 when Elizabeth was 21 years of age (letter 24 August 1976; NPG archive), but costume suggests it may be later. Elizabeth Carter was a close friend of Highmore’s daughter Susannah.

Portrait by Hester Mulso. Catherine Talbot wrote to Elizabeth Carter, 12 August 1756: ‘I had great pleasure in seeing in Mr Richardson’s [the novelist Samuel Richardson] hands an exceeding like picture of you, drawn by Miss Mulso this last summer’ (Letters between Mrs Elizabeth Carter and Miss Catherine Talbot, 1819, II, p 104).

Painting by Katherine Read, half length, a scarf round her head. Dr Johnson’s House, London, bequeathed by Mrs Pennington-Bickford 1948. ‘Painted for Mrs Montagu by Miss Read upwards of forty years since, was given by Mr Montagu to the author, and is reckoned a very good likeness’ (Rev. Montagu Pennington, Memoirs of the Life of Mrs Elizabeth Carter, 1807). A version with Mrs Erle-Drax in 1978.

Painting by Richard Samuel, Portraits in the characters of the Muses, see NPG 4905.

Miniature, unattributed, bust-length oval, wearing bonnet and shawl. with John Lane 1920 (illus. J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times, ed. W. Whitten, 1920, I, p 172).

Wax cameo by Joachim Smith, bust-length oval, with bonnet. Engraved Mackenzie 1806 and 1807, from an original Cameo in the possession of Lady Charlotte Finch; Rev. Montagu Pennington, Memoirs of the Life of Mrs Elizabeth Carter, 1807 described the 1807 engraving as from a cameo in her Ladyship’s possession, done by Joachim Smith, about twenty-five years ago in wax, ‘a very good and striking likeness.’

Miniature by J. H. Hurter, bust-length oval, with white bonnet. Sotheby’s, 21 June 1956, lot 71. Exhibited SKM 1865 (49) lent by Lord Cremorne.

Pastel by Thomas Lawrence, see NPG 28.

Unfinished painting by Thomas Lawrence, half length with bonnet. Lawrence sale, Christie’s, 18 June 1831, in lot 43; W. H. Carpenter sale, Christie’s, 16 February 1867, lot 55 (Scharf sketch in sale cat.; NPG archive). Pennington (Rev. Montagu Pennington, Memoirs of the Life of Mrs Elizabeth Carter, 1807) described a portrait begun by Lawrence ‘a few years ago, which promised to be a great likeness, but was not finished’. In May 1809 there was some correspondence between Lawrence, Farington and Cadell & Davies concerning this unfinished portrait (Joseph Farington, Diary, 10 May 1809).

J. T. Smith mentioned ‘Mrs Carter, of whom Mrs Nollekens was in possession of a portrait, most exquisitely engraven by Hayward [otherwise unrecorded], from a picture by Lawrence’ (J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times, ed. W. Whitten, 1920, I, p 62).

‘Portrait of Mrs Eliz. Carter in Indian ink, by Corbould’ [the miniaturist Richard Corbould?], Lawrence sale, Christie’s, 27 June 1830, lot 8, possibly, as Kerslake noted (NPG archives), the ink profile inserted into the front end-paper of Pennington 3rd ed. 1816 (NAL, Dyce 46K 24, 7314).

Unidentified portrait painted for ‘Mrs Rooke, came afterwards into the possession of Mrs Blosset, since deceased, who has left it, by her will, to the author’ (Rev. Montagu Pennington, Memoirs of the Life of Mrs Elizabeth Carter, 1807).

A profile engraving by Joseph Brown 1861 (Lady Llanover ed., The Autobiography and Correspondence of Mary Granville, Mrs Delany, 1861-62, I, f.p.79) appears to be taken from a miniature; if of Mrs Carter it must date from c.1750-60.

Doubtful Portraits
Paintings by J. Kitchingman, bust-length oval, engraved J. R. Smith 1781; attributed to Michael Dahl, Christie’s, Wateringbury Place, 1 June 1978, lot 345; ‘school of Kneller’, sold Carter Hall, Millwood Va, Sotheby Parke-Bernet, 18 September 1976, lot 278; attributed to Reynolds, sold Christie’s, 13 April 1877 lot 547. A miniature in Dr Johnson’s House, London.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.