Portrait of Sarah Wollaston
Portrait of Sarah Wollaston
Portrait of Sarah Wollaston
Portrait of Sarah Wollaston
Portrait of Sarah Wollaston
Portrait of Sarah Wollaston

SIR GODFREY KNELLER (1646-1723)

Portrait of Sarah Wollaston

c. 1726 England

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In this charming portrait the artist has illustrated the youthful sitter in a striking oyster satin dress and within a simple feigned oval. The sitter is Sarah Wollaston who was a daughter of Daniel Waldo and Anne (Hannah) Mercer (married 1707). Sarah was born in Cheapside (London) in April 1708. She married Israel Wollaston (1701-1765), who descended from an ancient family seated in Staffordshire, and was a respectable solicitor in Chancery Lane (London). Their marriage was in 1726 when Sarah was 18 years old and it is most likely that the portrait was commissioned to celebrate this marriage. Together the couple had more than 20 children but they all died young. In the 1806 “Obituaries and Anecdotes of Remarkable Persons” of The Gentleman's Magazine, and Historical Chronicle, Volume 76, Part 1 Sarah was described as “quite a character but a respectable one, and respectably connected”. It accounted that she had remembered the building of the Assembly House at Wanstead (which was one of England's most magnificent Palladian houses rivalling a royal palace and was known as the “English Versailles”) and she attended its opening in 1725. At the opening she danced with the Lord (Lord Castlemaine (1680-1750) who was the gentleman of the house) and also Sir Fisher Tench, 1st Baronet (c.1673-1736) who was an M.P. and one of the first directors of the Bank of England (see William Hogarth’s painting of The Ballroom and Lord Castlemaine c.1728 attached). She was a great niece to Sir Edward Waldo (c.1631-1707) and spent her summers at Forty Hall in Enfield which was the home of Sir Edward’s daughter Grace Baroness Hunsdon (c.1683-1729). It is worth noting that a portrait of Grace has been attributed to Michael Dahl.

In her later years she was “remarkable in her person and was very long a frequenter of Lincoln's Inn Gardens with her lap dog ‘Psyche’ on her arm”. This pet she provided for in her will by way of a weekly pension for the rest of her life. Her relative Sir Thomas Fowke and Mrs Sturt (the heiress of the families of Pitfield of Hoxton and Solomon Astley) visited her often. When her husband died she removed to a house in Leytonstone Essex which was one night plundered of valuables. One of the robbers allegedly colluded with some of her servants and they “sat on her bed and not suffering her to stir”. In 1779 or 1780 a few years after this robbery she moved to Newington (London) in the house of the great and celebrated English philanthropist John Howard (c.1725-c.1790). Here she spent the remainder of her life dying in 1806 in her 98th year. Among a considerable number of valuable trinkets, pearls, and diamonds which she has distributed among her various friends was an excellent miniature picture of her husband in a beautiful white wig containing 100 curls. The portrait was noted to be a faithful likeness of Israel when a member of Dr Calamy's meeting house at Westminster c.1730 (a Presbyterian English nonconformist church). Her executor was Colonel Sibthorpe, M.P. for the City of Lincoln. She was buried at Bayford Church where many years earlier she had placed an elegant monument for her husband and herself and at least one of her children.

Her husband descended from a branch of the Wollaston family anciently from Staffordshire and later settled at Shenton Hall, Leicestershire and Finborough Hall in Suffolk. Israel’s great grandfather, Richard Wollaston (1635-1691) of Loseby Hall, was Cromwell's “gun founder" and was a Major in the parliamentary army in 1645. He was later Master of the Ordnance to King Willian III. In 1690 a year before his death he applied for the return of the sum of £10,000 he had loaned to the then King William III. The Treasury Records contain the entry: "£140 paid to John Wollaston for the use of his father Richard on a/c of £10,000 part of £20,000 lent the King, and a further £50 on a/c of Poll Tax". Both these were Secret Service payments. On his death in 1691 he left land valued at £100 to the poor forever, £20 for clothing the poor in the parish of Woolmer, £30 to the parish of Whitchurch and £50 for 6 parishes in Leicester. According to a number of ancient deeds it is known that the Wollaston family flourished before and in the reign of Edward II. “The were gentleman: always lived upon their estates, seemingly with the same disposition and character as at present; contented and without ambition so as to make much noise in the world or too much enlarge their fortunes.”

Israel had been given land that had been purchased to create an income for a free school at Kingswood, Wiltshire, England) by his great grandfather John Mayo. In his will he left this to his second cousin and he also left his “grandfathers picture, set in gold” in care for the niece of Sir Isaac Wollaston which was a relative.

Stylistically, the work follows the English eighteenth century tradition of portrait painting, epitomised by the likes of Kneller and Dahl. This portrait was sold at the 23rd October 1964 Christies London sale of the Property of Lady Dixon D.B.E. and was catalogued as “Kneller”. The influence of Kneller is certainly clear but is slightly restrained for him and the tonality is closer to Michael Dahl (who had a brimming career and worked for a time and made a living in Kneller’s studio). See also Bartholomew Dandridge (1691 – c.1754) who attended Kneller’s Academy. The sitter was certainly well connected and associated within a respectable circle with access to good portraitists.

*See William Hogarth’s painting of The Assembly at Wanstead House 1728-31, located at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It depicts the marvellous ballroom of Wanstead House with figures tea drinking and card playing. The painting probably records the celebration of the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of Richard Child and Dorothy Glynne Child, Lord and Lady Castlemaine. Dressed in rich red velvet, Lord Castlemaine is seated on the far right with two of his daughters.
1) Property of Lady Dixon D.B.E.
2) Christies 23rd October 1964, London, Lot 156, Kneller - Portrait of Mrs Sarah Wollaston of Stoke Newington, who died aged 96 having survived all her 21 children, half length, in white Satin dress.
A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Commoners of Great ..., Volume 3. By John Burke Gentleman’s Magazine for 1806
Dimensions
Height 76.00 cm (29.92 inches)
Width 64.00 cm (25.20 inches)
External Height 94.00 cm (37.01 inches)
External Width 82.00 cm (32.28 inches)
Medium
Oil on canvas.
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