Feeling Blue

Sampson Towgood Roch

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Turban caps trimmed with ostrich feathers and jewels were initially worn by aristocratic ladies during the 1770s as exotica at fancy dress balls. By the early 1800s though they were, according to the Daily Mail (March 1802), “no longer exclusively the fashion for full dresses” and whilst the prevailing colours for hats were at that time rose and white, “sky blue in turbans shews itself at intervals”.

Whilst this lady, being a little more mature in years, may not have been in the forefront of fashion circles, she has nonetheless dressed stylishly for her portrait, painted around 1810. Her striking sky blue dress is worn with a matching fill-in with a van dyke collar enhanced by a rope of pearls to match the pearl clasp on her belt.

Although unsigned, the portrait is by the hand of the Irish artist Sampson Towgood Roch (e). Born in 1757, he was the eldest son of William and Mary Roch of Youghal, Co. Cork. Despite being born deaf and dumb, he showed an early talent for drawing. Advertising in a Dublin newspaper in 1778, Roch offered striking likenesses ‘even to the smallest size’ for just one guinea. He goes on to plead that ‘his Misfortunes, Abilities, Attention and moderate Price will insure him support in his own Country’. He worked first in Dublin and Cork before moving for a time to Bath to join the many successful artists working there at the height of its popularity as a spa resort. He had many wealthy clients including royalty and is said to have declined a Royal honour on account of his disability.

The portrait is in good condition and is presented in the original gold frame that is glazed on the reverse to show plaited chestnut brown hair with a gold initial H (for Harriet or Henrietta perhaps?) placed within a small lock of lighter brown hair. There is an erroneous label for Samuel Shelley on the back.

Item Ref. 6841

Size: framed, 76 x 65mm