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Oil painting - A Lady wearing a white dress
  • A Lady wearing a white dress
    Northcote, James, born 1746 - died 1831
  • Enlarge image

A Lady wearing a white dress

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    1795 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Northcote, James, born 1746 - died 1831 (painter (artist))

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Madeleine Antoinette Godchaux

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    In Storage


1795 (painted)


Northcote, James, born 1746 - died 1831 (painter (artist))

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas

Marks and inscriptions

'Northcote pinxt 1795'
Signed and dated by the artist


Height: 43.5 in estimate, Width: 34 in estimate, :

Object history note

Bequeathed by Madeleine Antoinette Godchaux, 1886

Historical significance: James Northcote (1746-1831) was born in Plymouth, Devon. He began teaching himself painting whilst he was still in Devon.In 1771 he moved to London to study at the Royal Academy Schools. He was a pupil and resident assistant to Sir Joshua Reynolds, President of the Royal Academy, from 1771 to 1775. Northcote travelled to Italy in 1777. He remained there until 1780 and was elected into Academies in Florence and Rome. On returning to London he worked predominantly as a portrait artist although he also produced history paintings. He was elected ARA in 1786 and RA in 1787. He exhibited over 200 works at the Royal Academy between 1773 and1828, and also exhibited at the British Institution and the Society of Artists. He was principally a portrait painter, but also painted fancy pictures and historical subjects, including several for Boydell's famous Shakespeare Gallery. Many of his works were engraved. Northcote also contributed to the literature on art by writing biographies of artists. He published the Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1813 and The Life of Titian in1830. There is a portrait drawing of him in the V&A (museum number 3007-1876).

This portrait was acquired by the V&A in 1886 through the bequest of Madeleine Antoinette Godchaux along with A Little Girl Nursing a Kitten (museum number 345-1886), also painted by Northcote. 344-1886 came in to the museum as a portrait of an unknown lady. Recently Jacob Simon has identified 344-1886 as being the portrait of Mrs. Stately, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1796 (221), and 345-1886 as being the portrait of her daughter Miss Stately (See "The Account Book of James Northcote", Simon, J).

The painting is a three quarter length conventional style portrait. The sitter is shown in the foreground standing facing left, whilst turning to look out at us. She appears to be in an interior space and is shown resting her right hand on a window sill to the left of the composition. Behind the sitter a curtain is drawn back to reveal the landscape framed by a large window. The sitter is shown in a white dress of thin fabric with a long coat of white silk, which falls in deep folds around the figure. The thinner fabric is gathered in a ruff-like collar. This introduction of thinner fabric and the higher waist line, here defined by a sky-blue sash, forms a softer silhouette than that of women’s dress in the earlier eighteenth century. The hair of the sitter is dressed simply, being worn closer to the head than during the preceding decades. This reflects the fashion for a "modest" style, partly the result of the French Revolution (1789-1799), which was being adopted throughout Europe in the last decades of the eighteenth century.

In his article "The Account Book of James Northcote", Jacob Simon made his identification of the sitter in Little Girl Nursing a Kitten (museum number 345-1886) as Miss Stately on the basis of the description in the artists account book of the painting as:

"Full length, standing young girl nursing a kitten in her arms, shaggy dog sits at l. (left) and looks up at cat."

This portrait of Miss Stately was painted in 1795, the date which is inscribed on museum number 345-1886. In 1795 Norhtcote also painted individual portraits of the young girl's father and mother. 344-1886 is also signed and dated 1795 by Northcote. The fact that Lady in a White Dress and Little Girl Nursing a Kitten were both in the collection of Madeleine Antoinette Godchaux prior to their acquisition by the V&A in 1886 would suggest that these works are from a related group. By looking at the portrait 344-1886 alongside that of Andrew Stately (Sold, Christies, 30th March 1962) it seems likely that the V&A portrait was painted as a pair to that of Andrew Stately. The sitter in 344-1886 is shown standing facing left whilst she turns out to look out of the composition. In the portrait of Andrew Stately, the sitter is also shown in an interior, his left hand resting on a window ledge whilst the curtain behind him is drawn back to reveal the view across Istanbul. This composition allows the sitters to be shown facing each other. The view through the window reflects their occupation. The cityscape of Istanbul refers to Andrew Stately's appointment as Minister to the Turkish Court, whilst the English countryside in 344-1886, conveys Mrs. Stately's role, remaining in England and looking after the family home. Considering 344-1886 and 345-1886 alongside the descriptions in Northcote's account book and looking at A Lady in a White Dress alongside the portrait of Andrew Stately makes a convincing argument that this is Northcote's portrait of Mrs. Stately. Northcote's portrait of Mrs. Stately was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1796 (221).


Simon, J."The Account Book of James Northcote", pp.21-125, in. The Walpole Society, 1995/96, no.38, p.65.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'A Lady Wearing a White Dress', James Northcote, 1795

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Simon, J."The Account Book of James Northcote", pp.21-125, in. The Walpole Society, 1995/96, no.38, p.65.


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Figures (representations)


Paintings; Portraits


Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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