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Portrait miniature of Mrs Heath Possibly Mary Phillipson 1757-1819 defacto wife of James Heath the Engraver

Portrait miniature of 'Mrs Heath' painted in 1798 by Mrs Baron

Presumed to be of Mary Phillipson 1757-1819, defacto wife of James Heath the Engraver

The above miniature came up for sale at Bonhams 24 November 2010, lot 122, described incorrectly as follows: John Wright (British, circa 1745-1820). Mrs Heath, wearing white dress, fichu, neck tie and turban.  Gold frame, the reverse glazed to reveal hair and seed pearl decoration on blue glass. Oval, 77mm (3 1/16in) high. Provenance: Sotheby's; 1 December 1980, lot 90.

The question is who is this Mrs Heath?  From her costume it can be guessed that the miniature is painted late 1700s, probably between 1780 and 1800.  We know that James Heath was socially aquainted with most if not all of the artists of this time active in London.  We know that James Heath had a number of portraits painted of himself (at least 13) and we can assume that he would have had a number of portraits of his wife however no portrait is known of Mary except for a mezzotint circa 1810.  Interestingly the above miniature of Mrs Heath has some striking similarities with the earlier portrait of the earlier Mrs Heath painted by Birch around 1780.  Both sitters are taken from their right side in identical aspects and both have blue backgrounds but these similarities could of course just be coincidence.  The item which is unusually similar is the bow tied at the front of the white head dress.  It would appear that James Heath has said to the painter of the second portrait (Mrs Baron, Mrs John Wright) can you paint me an image of Mrs Heath that will look as good as the picture of the first Mrs Heath.

Another possible artist for this miniature portrait could have been Mrs Beechey (Lady Beechey nee Anne Phillys Jessop 1764-1833).  A miniature portrait of James Heath by Mrs Beechey was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1795 No 539.  This was noted as being in a frame with three others. 

But this miniature is not by John Wright or Mrs Beechey, because inside the frame is a small note stating 'Mrs Baron, St Albans St, Pall Mall, No 33, 1798’.  Assuming the portrait is of Mary, she would have been 41 years of age.

Miniature portrait of Eliza Heath nee Thomas painted by Burch around 1780. Click for more details.

Mrs Heath

Mrs Heath


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