Lady Agnew of Lochnaw

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Lady Agnew of Lochnaw
Edinburgh NGS Singer Sargent Lady Agnew.JPG
ArtistJohn Singer Sargent
MediumOil on canvas
Dimensions127 cm × 101 cm (50 in × 40 in)
LocationScottish National Gallery, Edinburgh

Lady Agnew of Lochnaw is an oil on canvas portrait painting of Gertrude Agnew, the wife of Sir Andrew Agnew, 9th Baronet. The painting was commissioned in 1892 and completed the same year by the American portrait artist John Singer Sargent. It measures 127 × 101 cm (50.0 × 39.8 in) and is owned by the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh, Scotland. The museum acquired it through the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund in 1925.


Gertrude Vernon was born in 1865,[1] the daughter of the Hon. Gowran Vernon and granddaughter of Robert Vernon, 1st Baron Lyveden.[2] She married Sir Andrew Noel Agnew, 9th Baronet of Lochnaw Castle in Wigtownshire in 1889.[3] A few years later, during 1892, he commissioned John Singer Sargent to paint her portrait.[1] The success of the painting endowed her with additional notoriety and prestige.[4] There is speculation that the family may have met with financial difficulties resulting in an attempt to sell the painting to the Trustees of the Frick Collection in 1922 but the offer was rejected by Helen Clay Frick.[5][a] Lady Agnew died in London in April 1932 after suffering ill health for a long time.[2][7]


Gertrude Vernon at the time of her engagement.

Lady Agnew is seated in an 18th-century French Bergère[5] and, according to art historian Richard Ormond,[8] the back of the chair is used as a "curving, supporting space to contain the figure, creating a distinctive, languid elegance".[9] Sargent pictured her in a three-quarter length pose, dressed in a white gown with a silk mauve sash as an accessory round her waist.[10] The wall behind her is draped with Chinese silk of a blue colour.[5] She looks directly and appraisingly, her expression capturing the impression she is participating in an "intimate conversation" with those observing the painting.[5] Ormond and Kilmurray remark that she was convalescing from influenza at the time, which may account for the languor in her pose. They describe her gaze as "quietly challenging" and "something withheld and inviting in her quizzical half-smile".[11]

The oil on canvas measures 127 × 101 cm (50.0 × 39.8 in).[12] The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy, London, in 1893 and may have been influential in the artist's acceptance as an associate of the Academy the following January.[13] According to an unattributed article in The Times dated 29 April 1893, the portrait was "not only a triumph of technique but the finest example of portraiture, in the literal sense of the word, that has been seen here for a long time. While Mr Sargent has abandoned none of his subtlety, he has abandoned his mannerisms, and has been content to make a beautiful picture of a charming subject, under conditions of repose."[14] The writer also felt it was a "masterpiece".[14] Other exhibitions it featured in were at Boston's Copley Hall in 1899 and the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh during 1924.[10]

The painting still hangs in its original antique French rococo frame. It is not known if this is the same frame Sargent described in an 1893 letter to Sir Andrew: "Today I saw an old frame which I think might suit the picture... It is expensive, I think £20, and unless the picture should look remarkably well in it, hardly worth the money".[15][16][17]

According to the Scottish National Gallery, "the cumulative cost of sustaining celebrity with style obliged Lady Agnew to sell her own portrait".[18] The painting was acquired with assistance from the Cowan Smith Bequest Fund in 1925.[19] It was retitled as Lady Agnew of Lochnaw at her request (formerly it had been titled simply Lady Agnew). There are two letters from her about the sale of the painting in the gallery's archives. The first of these indicate that she had decided against letting it go to an American in New York and had offered it to the gallery for £4,000.[20][21] At the time Noel Agnew commissioned the portrait, Sargent's fee for a three-quarter length portrait was about £500.[22] After the gallery was extended around 1978, the additional area allowed space for the portrait to be displayed.[23]



  1. ^ The source states Lady Agnew was a widow at the time of the offer in 1922 but her husband did not die until 1928[6]


  1. ^ a b Lady Agnew of Lochnaw (1865–1932), Scottish National Gallery, archived from the original on 7 August 2014, retrieved 10 August 2014
  2. ^ a b "Late Lady Agnew", Edinburgh Evening News, no. 18408, p. 9, 6 April 1932, retrieved 10 August 2014 – via British Newspaper Archive
  3. ^ "The New Members", London Standard, no. 23800, p. 2, 6 October 1900, retrieved 10 August 2014 – via British Newspaper Archive
  4. ^ Herdrich, Weinberg & Shelley (2000), p. 209
  5. ^ a b c d Frick Collection launches American tour (PDF), Frick, pp. 5–6, archived (PDF) from the original on 12 August 2014, retrieved 11 August 2014
  6. ^ "Death of former Edinburgh MP", Dundee Courier, no. 23436, p. 3, 16 July 1928, retrieved 9 August 2014 – via British Newspaper Archive
  7. ^ "Gertrude Lady Agnew", The Times, no. 46099, p. 16, 5 April 1932
  8. ^ Richard Louis Ormond, National Portrait Gallery, archived from the original on 23 December 2014, retrieved 10 August 2014
  9. ^ Ormond & Kilmurray (1998), p. 104
  10. ^ a b Downes (1925), p. 170
  11. ^ Ormond & Kilmurray (2002), pp. 66–67
  12. ^ Herdrich, Weinberg & Shelley (2000), p. 208
  13. ^ Weinberg & Herdrich (2000), p. 23
  14. ^ a b "The Royal Academy", The Times, no. 33938, p. 13, 29 April 1893
  15. ^ John Singer Sargent and picture framing, National Portrait Gallery, retrieved 4 December 2015
  16. ^ Julia Rayer Rolfe et al. (1997), p. 24.
  17. ^ Ormond & Kilmurray (2002), p. 66
  18. ^ A Companion Guide to the Scottish National Gallery, National Galleries of Scotland, 2013, ISBN 978-1-903278-11-6
  19. ^ American patrons (PDF), National Library of Scotland, p. 4, archived (PDF) from the original on 3 March 2016, retrieved 10 August 2014
  20. ^ Ormond & Kilmurray (2002), p. 67
  21. ^ Julia Rayer Rolfe et al. (1997), p. 32
  22. ^ Julia Rayer Rolfe et al. (1997), p. 17
  23. ^ Roberts (1979), p. 51