Miss Susanna Gale
- oil on canvas
- 210.0 × 118.8 cm
- Accession Number
- International Painting
- Credit Line
- National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1934
- Gallery location
- 17th to 18th Century European Paintings Gallery
Level 2, NGV International
When Miss Susanna Gale (1749–1823) sat for Joshua Reynolds, she was just fourteen years of age, and had travelled to London, from her home in Jamaica, to complete her education. As the daughter of Francis Gale, Esquire, a British sugar planter, Miss Gale was a wealthy heiress. By the summer of 1760, Reynolds had established himself in Leicester Fields (now Leicester Square) as the pre-eminent portrait painter in London.
After returning to Jamaica, Susanna Gale married Sabine Turner, who died only nine months later. Her second marriage, which took place in May 1769, was to Captain Alan Gardner, RN, who went on to become commander-in-chief in Jamaica and was made the first Baron Gardner of Uttoxeter in 1806. Lady Gardner died in London at the age of seventy-four, leaving a family of seven sons and one daughter.
Reynolds’s notebooks demonstrate his popularity, recording that in one year, for example, he painted more than 150 different sitters. Reynolds’s working practice is revealed in a letter written by him to Daniel Daulby, a potential sitter, on 9 September 1777. The artist advised: ‘[Painting a portrait] requires in general three sittings, about an hour and a half each time but if the sitter chooses it the face could be begun and finished in one day’. It is divided into separate times for the convenience of the person who sits. When the face is finished the rest is done without troubling the sitter. To paint ‘the rest’ – that is, the hands and the clothes – Reynolds would have his servants and pupils model for him. The efficiencies of his practice also included the frequent reuse of popular settings and poses, particularly for female sitters. In fact, the artist’s portrait of Mrs Thomas Riddell (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne), painted at around the same time as the National Gallery of Victoria’s picture, uses a pose very similar to that of Susanna Gale, the ultimate inspiration for which was Anthony van Dyck’s portrait of Marchesa Elena Grimaldi, 1623 (National Gallery of Art, Washington DC). Reynolds knew and admired van Dyck’s painting, and the Melbourne portrait adheres to the original model fairly closely, even to the placement of the sitter in a portico. An important difference between the two works is the greater emphasis that Reynolds places on the garden background. While van Dyck depicts a manicured and well-ordered garden, Reynolds offers a ‘modern’ landscape, in line with the growing appreciation of nature that reflected British thinking in the mid to late eighteenth century.