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Creator:
Thomas Gainsborough RA, 1727–1788, British
Title:

Mary Little, later Lady Carr

Former Title(s):

Portrait of Lady Ray

Date:
ca. 1765
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
50 × 40 inches (127 × 101.6 cm) and 58 × 48 inches (147.3 × 121.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Bequest of Mrs. Harry Payne Bingham
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1987.6.2
Classification:
Paintings
Collection:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
bracelet | engageantes | fabrics | flowers (plants) | hairpiece | jewels | lace | portrait | robe à la française | ruffle | silk | textures | woman
Access:
On view in the galleries
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5059
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Painted when Thomas Gainsborough was working in Bath, this portrait was most likely commissioned to celebrate the marriage in 1765 of Mary Little of Bathford, Somerset, to Robert Carr, a mercer of Ludgate Hill, London, who assumed the title of Sir Robert Carr, Baronet, in 1777. Gainsborough, whose father was a weaver and whose sisters were milliners, revels here in the depiction of his sitter’s sumptuous attire. His feathery rendering of the various fabrics and textures of the dress is especially fitting, as Mary Little’s new husband was a prosperous fabric merchant, highly dependent in his business dealings upon the demand for new silks, lace, and other profitable trends in Georgian fashion.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2022



Painted when Thomas Gainsborough was working in Bath, this portrait was most likely commissioned to celebrate the marriage in 1765 of Mary Little of Bathford, Somerset, to Robert Carr, a mercer of Ludgate Hill, London, who assumed the title of Sir Robert Carr, Baronet, in 1777. Gainsborough, whose father was a weaver and whose sisters were milliners, revels here in the depiction of his sitter’s sumptuous attire. His feathery rendering of the various fabrics and textures of the dress is especially fitting, as Mary Little’s new husband was a prosperous fabric merchant, highly dependent in his business dealings upon the demand for new silks, lace, and other profitable trends in Georgian fashion.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016



This portrait was probably commissioned to mark the wedding of Mary Little to the successful London mercer of Ludgate Hill Robert Carr, who in 1777 was granted the form of hereditary knighthood known as a "baronetcy." Gainsborough, whose father was a weaver and whose sisters were milliners, revels in the description of his sitter's sacque or robe à la francaise, a fashionable style of dress with sumptuous panels sewn into the shoulders that, descending, formed a kind of train. The feathery rendering of the various fabrics and textures-especially the expensive, glossy, pink silk taffeta, which was known as "lute-string" or lustring-was especially appropriate since the sitter's new husband was a fabric merchant, highly dependent in his business dealings upon the demand for new silks, lace, and other profitable trends in Georgian fashion.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005



This portrait was probably commissioned to celebrate the marriage of Mary Little to Robert Carr, who became a baronet in 1777. Gainsborough, whose father was a weaver and whose sisters were milliners, revels in the description of his sitter's fashionable dress. His virtuoso rendering of its various fabrics and textures would have been especially appropriate since her new husband was a prosperous fabric merchant.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 1998
This painting may have been commissioned to celebrate the marriage of Mary Little to Robert Carr, who became a baronet in 1777 on the death of his brother. Mrs. Carr, as she would have been called previous to that year, displays her well-adjusted and adorned figure to advantage, and her portrait clearly takes as its inspiration images of seventeenth-century English beauties by van Dyck and Lely. Like his predecessors, Gainsborough flatters the proportions and beauty of Mrs. Carr by setting off her features with the various fabrics and textures of her attire.
Her translucent white hands and face are indeed complemented by her dress and its accessories: her black-lace ribbon necklace, the transparent lace-edged kerchief over her breast, the elaborate tiers of lace cuffs and bows, and the radiantly textured pink silk. Gainsborough (whose sisters were milliners and whose father was a weaver) favored this type of pink silk, a glossy taffeta called lute-string or lustring, since it created flattering comparisons between the colors of the sitter’s dress and the rosy tints of her complexion. The artist gives life and depth to Mrs. Carr’s flesh—particularly in her left hand, modeled with flecks of greens, whites, and pinks—and draws a pictorial analogy between her skin and the leaves and petals of the spring bouquet she holds at her breast.
Unlike Reynolds—who painted his sitters unadorned by the trappings of contemporary clothing so as to emphasize the timeless qualities of their characters—Gainsborough revels in the depiction of Mary Carr’s stylish dress, a sort that was popular in England during the 1760s. A sacque or robe à la française, her gown has voluminous pleated panels of fabric attached at the shoulder blades that fall down in a train over the back of her skirt. Her bodice is decorated with three-tiered lace ruffles and bows, and some of the flowers at her breast may even be held there in a small vase inserted into her bodice. Her twin pearl bracelets match the larger pearls woven into her hair and in her pompon, a decorative hair ornament that moved and shimmered whenever the wearer moved her head. These details of her costume add what Gainsborough called the "variety of lively touches and Effects to make the Heart dance…[the] Lustre and finishing [that] bring it up to individual Life." Here, the artist’s virtuoso rendering of the sumptuous fabrics of her dress are all the more appropriate since Mary Little’s future husband was a prosperous mercer.
This painting belongs stylistically to a group of female portraits Gainsborough painted in Bath during the early 1760s. As such, it evinces the transformation in his work that occurred upon his move in 1759 to that city, where, on the whole, his clients were wealthier and lived more luxuriously than his patrons from Ipswich.

[1] Woodall, 97.

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. 96, no. 34, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

In Sparkling Company: Glass and Social Life in Britain During the 1700s (Corning Museum of Glass, 2021-05-01 - 2022-01-01) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Yale University Art Gallery 2015-2016 (Yale University Art Gallery, 2015-02-01 - 2016-01-05) [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]

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]

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]

Accessions and Notes, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol 18, January 1923, pp. 19, 23, Available online: JSTOR [ORBIS]

Walter Armstrong, Gainsborough and his place in English Art, Heinemann, London, 1904, pp. 160, 260, NJ18 G16 A6 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Walter Armstrong, Thomas Gainsborough, Portfolio, , Seeley, London, 1894, pp. 23, 84, NJ18.G16 A5 1894 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Carrie Rebora Barratt, John Singleton Copley in America, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1995, p. 89, fig. 78, NJ18 C75 J65 1966 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Helen Clifford, Silver in London, the Parker and Wakelin partnership, 1760-1776 , Yale University Press, New Haven, 2004, p. 116, fig. 91, NK7198 P36 C57 2004 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, The paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, New York, 1991, pp. 76-77, no. 23, NJ18 G16 C66 1991 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Algernon Graves, Century of Loan Exhibitions 1813-1912, 5 v., London, 1913 - 1915, vol. 1, p. 381, N5051 G73 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

James Hamilton, Gainsborough A Portrait, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, pl. 38, NJ18.G16 H36 2017 (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, p. 96, no. 34, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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, Mellon Shelf (YCBA) [YCBA]

Reports of the Departments, Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, vol 27, October 1968, p. 95, Available online: JSTOR [ORBIS]

Susan Sloman, Gainsborough in Bath, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2002, p. 86, NJ18 G16 S56 2002 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Society Gossip, The Yorkshire Herald, and the York Herald, York, England, 17 March 1894, NA, Available online: 19th Century British Library Newspapers [ORBIS]

Ellis Waterhouse, Gainsborough, Spring Books, London, 1966, p. 58, no. 120, NJ18 G16 A12 W28 1966 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ellis Waterhouse, Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough, Volume of the Walpole Society, vol. 33, 1948-1950, p.17, N12 W35 A12 + (YCBA) [YCBA]


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