Collection Online

Miss Susanna Gale
(c. 1763-1764)

oil on canvas
210.0 × 118.8 cm
Accession Number
International Painting
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Felton Bequest, 1934
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of Digitisation Champion Ms Carol Grigor through Metal Manufactures Limited
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.


Miss Susanna Gale (c. 1763-1764)

Hand carved in Jelutong and gilded.

Miss Susanna Gale (c. 1763-1764)

The former framing of Reynolds’ Miss Susanna Gale posed a number of interesting questions.  The castellated form, the hardware at the upper and lower edges and the cropping of approximately two inches of the image along the top and bottom edges all suggested the fitting was not a picture frame but some other form of interior architectural embellishment.

Research toward reframing the Reynolds began in 1998.  The frame, in the Marratta style, fitted to the Portrait of Dr Markham, dated 1761, provided a potential model.  Unless a patron negotiated a specific framing requirement, Reynolds would by default use frames in the Carlo Marratta style. Despite a number of Marratta style frames appearing on paintings in the 18th century collection at the NGV, this slight variant of the style was thought to offer a good solution to framing Miss Susanna Gale.

The Markham frame had a width of 4″ which was scaled up to 6″ for Miss Susanna Gale.  The frame, entirely hand carved in jelutong and gilded with gold leaf, was made in London and fitted to the painting in 2002.  The frame was made in four sections and re-assembled in Melbourne; this reflected a number of historic frames in the collection that break down for transport.