British School, ? Mary Hawkins

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All rights reserved)


Country House
? Mary Hawkins
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 73 cm, Overall width: 61 cm
British School
Catalogue Number


The subject of the present portrait is traditionally identified as Mary Hawkins (1694–1780), daughter of Philip Hawkins I and Mary Scobell. She married Christopher Hawkins of Trewinnard (TN53) and was the mother of Thomas Hawkins of Trewithen (TN22). The portrait has been ascribed to the young John Opie, but the attribution is untenable both on stylistic grounds and the estimated age of the sitter, which appears to be somewhere around sixty years old. While the portrait does not resemble stylistically Ramsay’s portrait of her husband (TN53), it may have been painted slightly later, at some point in the 1750s.

The costume worn by the sitter is curious, as the costume historian, Aileen Ribeiro, explains:

What we see is contradictory. For example, the white linen headwear, comprising a white undercap (some brown hair visible on the right), and the double-layered cap, gathered in frills at the top and with plain ends (lappets) falling down the front, suggests mourning, but could also be worn by an elderly sitter. Lace, however, was not worn in mourning and she has either a black lace scarf or the lace borders the black velvet scarf she wears over her head. Apart from the headwear the rest of the clothing is a puzzle. The sitter seems to wear a greyish-brown short cape over white linen sleeves; such sleeves belong to underwear and would be worn under the sleeves of a dress, which is absent here. Also, the gold braid collar, which is not attached to the cape as the ends of the linen lappets appear underneath it. All very baffling’.1

If the portrait depicts Mary Hawkins in mourning, it would have to post-date 1767, the date of her husband’s death, although stylistically it looks earlier. Mary Hawkins was a wealthy woman by any standards. In 1767, on the death of her husband, she inherited the £2000 he had invested in the Cornish Copper Company, founded in the late 1750s. By the Deed of 1779 she was recorded as a partner with an investment of £4000.2 Mary died on 10 October 1780, and was interred with her husband in the family vault at St Erth. For other possible portraits of Mary Hawkins at Trewithen see TN27 and TN63. The inventory of March 1928, when the picture hung in the Drawing Room, described it as ‘J. Opie R.A. (attributed to) an elderly lady (half length) Mary wife of Christopher Hawkins married 1716, died 1780, 30in by 24in’.

by Martin Postle


  1. Aileen Ribeiro, email communication with the author, 16 October 2017.

  2. CRO X473/102: Cornish Copper Company, Articles of Partnership, 25 October 1779. See also NA PROB/1079/288: will of Mary Hawkins, widow of St Erth, Cornwall.


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