Mary Wilkes; John Wilkes
- Extended catalogue entry
Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue
Mary Wilkes; John Wilkes
by Johan Joseph Zoffany
49 3/4 in. x 39 1/2 in. (1264 mm x 1003 mm)
This portraitback to top
Wilkes’s lasting devotion to his daughter Mary (Polly, 1750-1802), his only legitimate child, was one of the less complicated aspects of his character. The fact that Mary seems ‘fussily overdressed and lacking in any innate sense of style’  may be a reflection of her father’s indulgence. Walpole saw NPG 6133 in Zoffany’s studio in November 1779: ‘A delightful piece of Wilkes looking - no, squinting tenderly at his daughter - it is a caricature of the Devil acknowledging Miss Sin in Milton. I do not know why, but they are under a palm tree, which has not grown in a free country for some centuries’.  When it was shown at the RA three years later Walpole found it ‘horridly like’.  The sleeping pomeranian dog was Zoffany’s, and recurs in Zoffany’s Sharp Family of 1779-81 (on loan to the National Portrait Gallery since 1978; L169).
Mary Wilkes studied in Paris 1763-64 and stayed there again in 1770; well-educated, but evidently plain, she was unmarried; she appeared in an anonymous caricature group, A Sunday Concert 1782, smiling at Dr Burney  and she also bequeathed her portrait ‘done in crayons by Hoare’ to Lady Baker. 
Footnotesback to top
1) A. Ribeiro, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p 135.
2) Wal. Corr., XXXIII, pp 137-38; 14 November 1779, to the Countess of Upper Ossory; the tree is palpably not a palm - Williamson (G. C. Williamson & Lady Victoria Manners, John Zoffany, R.A., his life and works, 1920, p 74) even suggested the setting ‘so far as is known’, was Wilkes’s country residence, Balcony House, Elysium Row, Fulham.
3) A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts, a Complete Dictionary of Contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904, 1904.
4) M. D. George, British Museum, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, V, 6125 (illus. Burney’s History of Music, ed. F. Mercer, 1934).
5) J. Almon, Correspondence of John Wilkes, 1805, V, p 114. There is also a somewhat dubious miniature of her by Ozias Humphry c.1770, in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne (illus. G. C. Williamson, Catalogue of the Collection of Miniatures, The Property of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1906, II, no.226, pl.LXXIII; Connoisseur, XLVIII, 1917, p 55).
Referenceback to top
Williamson & Manners 1920
G. C. Williamson & Lady Victoria Manners, John Zoffany, R.A., his life and works, 1920, pp 73-74, 176-77.
Physical descriptionback to top
Wilkes has brown squinting eyes, white hair, and wears a dark blue coat with red facings and gold trim (possibly a uniform coat),1 buff vest, nankeen breeches and black top-boots; he sits in a green chair, holding his black hat in his left hand.
His daughter has brown eyes, her grey hair dressed with red roses and ostrich feathers, pink silk roses and foliage; she wears a green quilted underskirt with a lace apron and a pink and white panelled dress with silver decoration and pink bows on the sleeves; her gloves are pale green and her pink shoes have silver buckles.
1 M. Webster suggested it may be the coat of a Chamberlain of the City of London, an office to which Wilkes was elected in 1779 (Sotheby's Preview, October 1900, p 19); Ribiero (A. Ribiero, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p 134) describes it as 'a quasi-military riding coat'.
Provenanceback to top
By descent from the sitter to his niece, Dinah Hayley, who married Sir Robert Baker, 1st Bt;1 by descent to Sir Robert Sherston-Baker, 7th Bt; Sotheby’s, 14 November 1990, lot 47, bought in; purchased by private treaty sale with the aid of National Heritage Memorial Fund and the National Art Collections Fund 1991.
1 Mary, Wilkes's daughter, directed in her Will: 'I give to my aforesaid cousin, lady Baker, the picture, by Zoffany, of my dear father and myself' (J. Almon, Correspondence of John Wilkes, 1805, V, p 114).
Exhibitionsback to top
RA 1782 (53); Second special exhibition of National Portraits (William and Mary to MDCCC), South Kensington, 1867 (654) lent Sir Henry Baker; Into View, Sudbury, 1986 (17) lent anon.; Treasures for Everyone, NACF exhibition, Christie's, 1997.
Reproductionsback to top
S. Freeman 1804 (detail bust of Wilkes); S. Freeman 1805 (detail, bust of Mary Wilkes).
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.