Mary Russell Mitford
10 of 34 portraits by Benjamin Robert Haydon
- Extended catalogue entry
Early Victorian Portraits Catalogue
Mary Russell Mitford
by John Lucas, after Benjamin Robert Haydon
circa 1853, based on a work of 1824
14 in. x 12 1/4 in. (356 mm x 311 mm)
Inscriptionback to top
Inscribed on a label on the back: Mary Russell Mitford (Authoress)/painted by John Lucas.
This portraitback to top
This portrait is based on the head of B. R. Haydon's portrait of 1824, now in the Reading Museum and Art Gallery. To Miss Mitford, Haydon's portrait 'seemed a strong, unflattered likeness', and she commented on another occasion: 'It was so exaggerated, both in size and colour, that none of my friends could endure it.' She later referred to the painting as 'the cook-maid thing of poor dear Haydon'.  Haydon eventually cut the head out and destroyed the rest of the picture. Francis Bennoch, who owned the Haydon fragment, got Lucas to execute his copy, so as to soften the rumbustious effect of the original. He then had the Lucas engraved by W. Drummond, as the frontispiece to Miss Mitford's Dramatic Works, and to vol I of Atherton (both of 1854), intending to present the Lucas painting to her as a surprise. Miss Mitford, however, thought that the engraving had been done from the Haydon, and her reactions were so hostile that neither Bennoch nor Lucas dared to tell her of the substitution, let alone present her with the painting; Lucas simply suppressed it. On 11 April 1854, Miss Mitford wrote innocently to the artist:
'Thank you, dearest Mr Lucas, for liking "Atherton" ... Everybody detests the portrait; William Harness says that it represents a "fierce, dark, strong-minded woman". Mr Hope says that "not only is it utterly unlike the author of 'Atherton' and 'Our Village', but that it was morally impossible that it should have been like her, although it might very possibly be a striking likeness of the author of 'Uncle Tom’”.’ 
Bennoch came into possession of the Haydon portrait in September 1853, so the Lucas must date from the winter of 1853-4. 
Footnotesback to top
1) Letters to Sir William Elford of 21 May 1825 and 16 December 1828, published [Rev W. Harness], The Life of Mary Russell Mitford, edited Rev A. G. L'Estrange (1870), II, 205-6, 259-60, and 262, respectively.
2) Harness, III, 281.
3) Much of the information for this entry was kindly communicated by Francis Needham (letters and notes in NPG archives).
Referenceback to top
A. Lucas, John Lucas (1910), p 109, where it is inaccurately described as a copy of Lucas' portrait of 1852 (see NPG 4045).
V. Watson, Mary Russell Mitford (1949), p 314.
Physical descriptionback to top
Dark complexion, bluish eyes, brown hair. Dressed in a white bonnet with a red ribbon, a greyish-brown dress with a white collar, fastened by a gold brooch with a blue stone, and a reddish-brown shawl. Background colour green. Visible across the front of the portrait are pencil grid lines, presumably used by the engraver to transfer the design onto his plate. On the reverse of the portrait is an unfinished oil sketch of a seated man, and a study of a hand.
Provenanceback to top
Commissioned by Francis Bennoch; purchased, through Earl Stanhope, Lucas Sale, Christie's, 25 February 1875 (lot 53).
This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Ormond, Early Victorian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1973, 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.