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Feb 19, 2013

Portrait of Miss Mary Tadman

Portrait of Miss Mary Tadman

1809

John I Smart

(British, 1741-1811)

Watercolor and graphite, heightened with traces of white gouache on paper

Support: Wove paper (discolored to light brown)

Sheet: 15.4 x 13.4 cm (6 1/16 x 5 1/4 in.); Image: 14.2 x 12.2 cm (5 9/16 x 4 13/16 in.)

Bequest of Mrs. A. Dean Perry 1997.78

Location

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This drawing was passed on through the generations of the artist John Smart's family until 1937 when his great-granddaughter sold it.

Description

Mary Tadman’s head and shoulders face right. Her eyes are brown, and she wears a necklace of small pearls and a drop pearl earring. She wears her dark brown hair high in a classically inspired bun, with a braid across the hairline and many curls falling over her forehead and in front of her ears. Her white dress is delicately embroidered at the edges along the bust and is tied at the empire style waist, with a small pin fastened to the front. The translucent
white sleeves worn beneath the dress are probably made of muslin and detachable, since they do not appear in the ivory version of the portrait. Detachable sleeves were popular during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and enabled a dress to function as day- and eveningwear. The nature of this work as a finished drawing rather than exclusively a preparatory sketch for a miniature on ivory is evident in the degree of finish of the sitter’s clothing, heightened with white gouache and painted to the elaborated penciled oval border.
In December 1809, the year this drawing was executed, Mary Tadman (1786–1862) married Major William Jolliffe Eldridge. He died in 1818 in Poona, India, and three years later, his widow married Colonel Daniel Hutchins Bellasis (1785–1836), with whom she had two children: Flora and Augustus Fortunatus. Mary lived for nearly two decades in India, where she was a celebrated beauty, and where her second marriage into the militarily distinguished Bellasis family seems to have secured her presence in high society. On the occasion of her marriage in 1821, she wrote her spinster sister, “I forgot I have not told you a word of my marriage, which by the by was the grandest affair known in Bombay, I am almost tired of the subject—visits and congratulations, etc. The Governor and Staff went with me to Church . . . and all the people of any consequence in Bombay about 100 came to a Breakfast at Randall Lodge—since which it has been one constant scene of gaiety. Last week, pity me when I tell you, how I was obliged to exert myself—we gave a dinner party to 40 people. The Governor’s family . . . and all the Big Wigs who gave me parties—the same evening 160 came at ten to a dance—afterwards a supper very splendid I assure you.”
A related ivory version of this miniature is in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, signed and dated at the lower left: “J S / 1809.” While Miss Tadman’s coiffure, countenance, jewelry, and dress are identical to the Cleveland sketch, in this portrait she wears an elaborate black and red, flowered Indian shawl with white border over her white dress, the under-sleeves omitted. Indian shawls, particularly those from Kashmir, were extremely expensive signifiers of social status in India and Europe, and by the end of the eighteenth century, they often formed part of the trousseau of a wealthy French or English bride. The shawls were particularly fashionable worn in contrast with the high-waisted gauzy white dresses of the Empire period. While many portraits and miniatures from the early nineteenth century depict women conspicuously displaying their Indian shawls, Miss Tadman wears hers in a manner not often seen in European portraits: across one shoulder and around the waist, like a sari. Mary and William Eldridge wed in December 1809, one month after Smart signed this sketch. Because Smart depicted Miss Tadman during her engagement, the shawl worn in the finished ivory portrait may have been a gift from her betrothed, who had been stationed in Bombay in 1809. While appropriate for a half-length portrait, the under-sleeves were probably deemed unnecessary for the miniature, which shows little of the arm and instead depicts the sitter more formally, wrapped in her shawl.
The existence of a larger, finished drawing as well as a miniature on ivory suggests that the finished drawing may have served a variety of roles, while also implying that another preparatory sketch for both may exist. At nearly twice the size of the ivory, Cleveland’s drawing is not likely to have been the sole preparatory exercise for the finished miniature. There is no question that as a young bride-to-be, Miss Tadman was thinking carefully about how she wished to be represented at a pivotal moment in her life, and that a single portrait was insufficient to accommodate all of the accoutrements that were of significance to her. The neo-Grec coiffure, au courant empire waist dress with detachable sleeves, pearl parure, ornamental pin, and costly shawl communicate clearly the social ambitions to which her
biography is also a testament.

See also

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