The Summer Bonnet

John Donaldson


In contrast to the very tall hair-dos of the 1770s, the following decade saw ladies revert to more modest hair styles with natural loose curls à la conseilleur being the popular choice.  This style was better suited to the wearing of hats as demonstrated by this young lady who wears her bonnet at an engaging angle. Trimmed with a bright orange ribbon, it also sports white ostrich feathers, a fashion made popular by Gainsborough in his portraits. Peculiarly, the brim of her hat appears to be secured to the crown by a double rope of pearls.

Along with her eye-catching hat, she is wearing a white dress with a square lace-trimmed neckline and buttons on the bodice together with a pale apricot wrap drawn over her arms.

Writing in the Connoisseur in 1907, Dr George Williamson described the artist John Donaldson as ‘surely one of the oddest painters that ever lived’. From humble beginnings (his father made gloves), Donaldson drifted from painting china into portraiture winning early recognition and important prizes from the Society of Arts. After only a few years, however, he developed a fascination for chemistry and wasted his money on failed experiments. He also published a volume of poetry that flopped. Indeed, ‘his eccentricities were most extraordinary’ and his politics most radical that he ‘made enemies in all directions’ and ‘gradually sank into deep poverty’. And yet he was clearly capable of capturing a fine likeness, had he but chosen to make this his main source of income.

The portrait is set in a gold (tests for 18ct) frame, the reverse glazed to show strands of brown hair pasted on to card.

Item Ref. JH005

Size: framed, 68 x 56mm

Provenance: Bonhams, May 2011