<< YCBA Home Yale Center for British Art Yale Center for British Art << YCBA Home

YCBA Collections Search

IIIF Actions
Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1723–1792
Miss Mary Hickey [1985, Cormack, YCBA Concise Catalogue]
Former Title(s):

Miss Hickey [2009, YCBA]

Mary Hickey

Young lady, Miss Hickey, niece of Edmund Burke's lawyer [1883-84, Grosvenor Gallery, exhibition catalogue]
1769 to 1773
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
30 3/16 x 25 1/16 inches (76.7 x 63.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
black | costume | dark | gloves | hats | interior | mantles | portrait | woman
Associated People:
Hickey, Mary (died in 1795), William Hickey's sister
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

Mary Hickey was the eldest daughter of Joseph Hickey, who was a friend of the artist, and legal adviser to the politician and philosopher Edmund Burke. Miss Hickey sat for Reynolds in 1769 and 1771, and on six occasions in August 1773-it is possible that Reynolds invited her to pose for him not necessarily for her portrait but as a model for some other kind of picture. Mr. Hickey paid Reynolds 35 guineas for the finished painting, a considerable sum. Miss Hickey's wide-brimmed satin hat was very fashionable. Later, in 1776, the Gentlemen's Magazine complained about "Hats that only shew the chin / And the mouth's bewitching grin." For Reynolds, the hat merely offered a convenient pretext for casting a subtle shadow across the young woman's face.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005
Miss Hickey first sat to Reynolds on February 28, 1769, around the time he was working on a portrait of her father, Joseph Hickey, friend and legal advisor to the philosopher Edmund Burke. Only in 1773, however, did the artist seriously undertake painting this image, and she sat again five times in August of that year.
Despite its completion in or around 1773, her portrait belongs to the group of bust-length images of women Reynolds painted throughout the 1760s, and as such it stands in contrast to his grander, so-called historical or Grand Manner portraits in which sitters were shown in dress and attitudes removed from their everyday lives. He had experimented with such relaxed attitudes in his portraits from the outset of his career, especially when painting his friends and colleagues, such as Kitty Fisher or Catherine Moore, wife of the architect William Chambers. His likeness of Mary Hickey captures her individuality largely through its intimate format, her relaxed pose, and her frontal, yet non-confrontational gaze. Her manner, as she comfortably leans on a carved pedestal, is at once casual and art-historical, bringing to mind Renaissance and Baroque portraits by artists such as Titian or Frans Hals as well as examples by more contemporary Continental painters like François Boucher.
The intimacy of the portrait is heightened by Reynolds's use of light and shadow to accentuate his sitter's features; the dabs of light on the tip of her nose and lower lip, for instance, draw the viewer's eyes quickly to her smooth white cheek and rosy lips. Reynolds increases the power of Hickey's coy glance by shading her eyes with the brim of her white satin hat, a technique that again has clear art-historical precedents, including, especially, Rembrandt's 1633 portrait of his wife, Saskia (Dresden). But like Hickey's pose, her supremely fashionable hat-similar to that which Mrs. Browne wears in Wheatley's portrait of the Browne family (no. 19)-contributes to the painting's aura of immediacy. A writer in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1776 noted the alluring-if somewhat comical-aspect of such headgear:
Hats that only shew the chin
And the mouth's bewitching grin. [1]
Indeed, all of the trimmings and accessories of her outfit serve to intensify the overall painterly effect of the picture and, by extension, her beauty.
Painting as much an essay in texture as a portrait, Reynolds revels in the vigorous and nervous lines and folds of the black silk of her hooded cloak and the sinuous curves of her clasped fingers within their gray gloves. He uses the sensuality of the painted fabrics to augment the vibrancy of the white flesh against which they rest. Especially evocative are the delicate black silk string sweeping sensuously against her chest and dangling a small gold ring at her breast and the hint of white lace sleeve peeping out from under her cloak where her glove begins. As opposed to his historical portraits, this image has an emphatic presence that commands a direct response from the viewer. Nonetheless, it does project an air of atmospheric remoteness, a quality inherent in many of Reynolds's portraits, one his pupil and biographer James Northcote described as "a vagueness that gives them a visionary and romantic character, and makes them seem like dreams or vivid recollections of persons we have seen." [2] [1] Cunnington and Cunnington, 355.
[2] Shaew-Taylor, 108.

Julia Marciari-Alexander

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 102, no. 37, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

"Brilliant Effects" [ Jewels ] (Yale Center for British Art, 2003-07-10 - 2004-01-10) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

British Institution, Catalogue of a selection of works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Benjamin West ..., and Sir Thomas Lawrence : the last three presidents of the Royal Academy : with which the proprietors have favoured the Institution., RA : the magazine for the Friends of the Royal Academy, London, 1833, p. 8, no. 11, N5055 B7 A33 OVERSIZE (RARE BOOKS, YCBA) [ORBIS]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 184, 188, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Exhibition of [ the ] Works of the Old Masters together with works of Deceased Masters of the British School Winter Exhibition 3d Year 1872, Royal Academy of Arts, 1872, p. 13, no. 105, Fiche B108 (YCBA) Also available online : http://www.racollection.org.uk [YCBA]

Algernon Graves, A history of the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A., Henry Graves & Co., London, UK, 1899, p. 465 (v. 2), NJ18 R36 G73 OVERSIZE (YCBA) Also available on Microfiche: Fiche B6 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Grosvenor Gallery, Catalogue of the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery MDCCCLXXXIII-IV, illustrated with photo-intaglio plates after the originals by Alfred Dawson. , Chiswick Press, London, 1884, p. 65, no. 147, NJ18 R36 G76 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

William Hickey, Memoirs of William Hickey ..., vol. 1, Hurst & Blackett, London, 1913, p. 309, CT788.H5 A3 1913 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Charles Robert Leslie, Life and times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, with notices of some of his contemporaries. , John Murray, London, 1865, p. 501, NJ18 R36 L47 (YCBA) Also available on Microfche: The Nineteenth Century: Visual Arts ; Pos: Fiche.N.4.2.357) (SML Fiche B1244 Fiche.N.4.2.357) [YCBA]

David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, a complete catalogue of his paintings , Yale University Press, New Haven, 2000, v. 1, p. 257; v. 2, p. 434, no. 903 (v.1), fig. 1080, NJ18 R36 A12 M35 2000 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden : Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 90, 102, no. 37, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Miss Mary Hickey (art reproduction), Apollo, August 1927, p. 46, J10 Ap43 + (SML) [ORBIS]

Miss Mary Hickey, ART News, vol. 41, December 15, 1942, p. 14, N1 A6 + (HAAS) [ORBIS]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 3, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Joshua Reynolds' sitter-book, vol. 6, vol 8., s.n, S.l., 1759, Feb. 28, 1769, NJ18 R36 A12 1757A (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sotheby's sale catalogue : Important British Pictures : 27 November 2003, Sotheby's, Sotheby's, London, November 27, 2003, pp. 32-35, no. 11, pl. 11, Auction Catalogues (YCBA) [YCBA]

The Three Presidents, Monthly Magazine, vol. 16:91, July 1833, p. 67, Available onine in British PeridicalsII Database Hardcooy available at BRBL (Gimbel/Dickens [ORBIS]

Angus Trumble, The Finger : A Handbook, , Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2010, p. 128, GT498.F46 T78 2010 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ellis Waterhouse, Reynolds, Kegan Paul, Trench Trübner, London, 1941, p. 63, NJ18 R36 W37 (YCBA) [YCBA]

If you have information about this object that may be of assistance please contact us.