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Mrs. Clarke, the York Magnet

1821
Origin: America, Connecticut
Primary support: 9 7/8 x 9 15/16in. (25.1 x 25.2cm) and Framed: 11 9/16 x 11 9/16in.
Watercolor, pencil, ink, cutout engraved collage, and thread on wove paper
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1958.300.8
A scene showing a young woman in a white dress reclining on a sofa, her head leaning on one hand, the other hand loosely clasping a book in her lap. Near the foot of the sofa, a young girl extends a doll toward the woman and, in her other hand, supports a bunch of grasses in her apron. The child is silhouetted against an open doorway, through which branches of a tree are visible. A black wall appears behind the sofa and, at upper left on it, a circular engraving of a harvesting scene is cut out and applied. Lettering appears in the reserve beneath the composition.
The 1-inch silver-leafed cyma recta frame is a period replacement.
Label:Eunice Pinney's amusing tongue-in-cheek title ("Mrs. Clarke the York Magnet") and her adult subject, including the elegant couch on which she reclines, were derived from a hand-colored aquatint published in England in 1809 [note 1].

Mary Anne Clarke (1776-1852) achieved notoriety in early nineteenth-century London as the mistress of Frederick, Duke of York. As commander in chief, the Duke had considerable patronage at his disposal, and it was widely known that Mrs. Clarke accepted bribes from military officers in return for promises of favorable influence with his lordship. The arrangement assumed the proportions of public scandal in 1809, when Colonel G. L. Wardle brought charges of abuse of military patronage against the Duke in the House of Commons. Although the charges were unproven ultimately, the basic issue and the host of corollary claims and countercharges that it spawned provided grist for the political satirists' mills [note 2].

Pinney executed a second watercolor derived from the same aquatint. Titled "Forlorn," it shows the couch awkwardly truncated into a chair form [note 3].

The child in Pinney's composition probably also derives from some widely-circulated print source, but none has been identified to date. A child in the same basic posture (but lacking the doll) appears in a memorial created by Pinney [note 4].

A different aspect of Pinney's inventive assimilation of printed source material is illustrated by the circular scene in the upper left corner of Mrs. Clarke. Obviously intended to represent a picture hanging on the wall, the charming illustration of figures in a garden was originally part of a larger, engraved reward of merit. An uncut specimen of the printed reward shows four decorative scenes in the upper margin, each depicting figures engaged in activities appropriate to the season named on a banner above them [note 5]. The engraved scene used in Mrs. Clarke illustrated "Spring" in its original context. "Winter" from the same reward was used in a similar manner in another Pinney watercolor, one depicting a scene from Goethe's Sorrows of Werther [note 6].

Initially, the black wall behind Mrs. Clarke was painted light blue (the present color of the upholstery), and a window with foliage visible through it was painted adjacent to the door frame. Pinney altered these features by pasting a separate piece of paper over the window, first cutting it around Mrs. Clarke's contours, then covering the entire rear wall with ink.
Provenance:J. Stuart Halladay and Herrell George Thomas, Sheffield, Mass. Halladay died in 1951, leaving his interest in their jointly-owned collection to his partner, Thomas. Thomas died in 1957, leaving his estate to his sister, Mrs. Albert N. Petterson, who was AARFAC's vendor.

Mark(s):A post horn watermark appears in the primary support.
Inscription(s):Below the figure, to the right of center, appears the recto ink inscription: "Eunice Pinneys drawing October 4 1821." Below this, on a separate piece of wove paper basted to the first with thread, is the additional recto ink inscription: "Mrs CLARKE the York MAGNET. See my Dol/Eunice Pinneys drawing, October 4, 1821."