In this unashamedly alluring portrait the clothing of the sitter seems to fall away, revealing her bare chest. High fashion became increasingly risqué in the late 17th century. It was considered stylish for a woman to reveal bare forearms, wear a remarkably low neckline and have a dishevelled look, as if recently involved in some romantic tryst. However, this style of dress was not universally accepted and, in general, women of the more conservative middle classes remained covered. Once thought to depict Queen Anne, research suggests that this is a portrait of the actress and mistress of Prince Rupert, Margaret Hughes.
This work was purchased from Christie’s, London, on 28 February 1947 (Lot 100). It was sold together with another portrait by Wissing (GAC 290), which depicts Queen Mary II, as a single lot. The two portraits were sold by Reginald Arthur Tatton (1857-1926) of Cuerdon Hall, Lancashire, and were probably formerly owned by his ancestor Robert Towneley Parker (1793-1879). Cuerdon Hall is now a Sue Ryder Care Home.
William Wissing, said to have been born in Amsterdam, studied at The Hague and worked in London from 1676. He was an assistant to portrait painter Sir Peter Lely, through whom he found patronage at court. Wissing was much patronised by James II, who sent him to the Netherlands in 1685 to paint portraits of William and Mary. There is a French influence in Wissing’s paintings, reminiscent of the work of Nicolas de Largillièrre, who also worked with Lely in London. By 1685, Wissing commanded a busy studio. His assistants included Jan Vandervaart, who added landscape backgrounds, drapery and floral accessories to the portraits. Wissing died while working on a portrait of the Fifth Earl of Exeter and his sons, at Burghley House in Lincolnshire.
Margaret (“Peg”) Hughes (d1719), Actress and Mistress of Prince Rupert [identity uncertain]
Oil on canvas
height: 125.00 cm, width: 101.50 cm
Purchased from Christie's, 28 February 1947
Probably collection of Robert Towneley Parker (1793-1879); collection of Parker’s ancestor Reginald Arthur Tatton (1857-1926) of Cuerdon Hall, Preston, Lancashire; by whose executors sold through Christie’s, London, on 28 February 1947 (Lot 100; with GAC 290); from which sale purchased by ‘Scull’ or ‘Scott’ on behalf of the Office of Works
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