LADY SMITH- Nee PLEASANCE REEVE 1773- 1877
Oil on canvas
30” x 25”
Date: 1797 (?)
Labels to verso:
1) John Opie R.A. THE GIPSY,. Half length…. In the distance a camp fire (part of the label missing)
95 From the collection of the Earl of Coventry
2) JOHN OPIE THE GIPSY from the collection of the Earl of Coventry in London 1844
The first label appears to be a sale label
The second label is central and appears older. It would appear to be an exhibition label.
LADY SMITH (1773- 1877)
Pleasance Reeve was born in Lowestoft.
In 1796 she married JAMES EDWARD SMITH, founder and president of the Linnaean Society. Smith devoted his interest to the science of classification as developed by Carl Linnaeus, whose collections he owned.
Lady Smith was intelligent and educated. She read widely and evidently took an interest in the Linnaean studies.
James Edward Smith was fourteen years older than her. He came from Norwich and after a short time of married life in London, the Smiths moved up to Norwich. Their happy marriage is traced in numerous surviving letters.
Amelia Opie, who also came from Norwich, would have known Smith and it is likely that the Smiths met Opie through her introduction.
Lady Smith survived her husband for nearly forty nine years. She lived to the age of 103. She became a celebrity. When she died- in her native Lowestoft- shops closed for the funeral and she is commemorated in a stained glass window above the altar in the parish church.
Her great beauty was famous- the Dictionary of National Biography specifically states:"The Gypsy portrait painted by Opie in 1797 suggests that Lady Smith was very beautiful".
REPRODUCED AS A LITHOGRAPH: GRAF AND SORET 1797
There was another version of this portrait, which remained in the Smith family.
It is said to have been different in its composition. It is illustrated in Ada Earland, where an obscure photograph suggests it is almost identical to this one.
There was a version in which Lady Smith points to a playing card in her hand.
LITERATURE: ADA EARLAND p.142 and illustrated on facing page.
DICTIONARY OF NATIONAL BIOGRAPHY – this painting is specifically mentioned.
Lady Smith’s husband, James Edward Smith, is mentioned in numerous reference books- and his wife is frequently mentioned by association.
The Earl of Coventry's London home was 106 Piccadilly. This splendid house was later the residence of the French Ambassador, and then the St James’s Club: it is now an educational establishment.