Charlotte (Pilford) Grove
Maker: George Romney , British, 1734-1802
Sitter:Sitter: Charolette (Pilfold) Grove , British, died 1828
Dimensions: 50 1/2 x 40 1/2 in. (128.3 x 102.9 cm.)
Medium: oil on canvas
Credit Line: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Adele S. Browning Memorial Collection, gift of Mildred Browning Green and Honorable Lucius Peyton Green
Object Number: 78.20.36
Label Text: Charlotte Pilfold, whose birthdate is unknown, was the daughter of Bathia White of Horsham and her husband Admiral Charles Pilfold of Effingham, Surrey, who commanded one of Nelson's ships at Trafalgar. Her sister Elizabeth (1763-1846), wife of Sir Timothy Shelley, Bart., was the mother of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. In February 1781 Charlotte Pilfold married Thomas Grove (1758-1847) of Ferne, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, who had been educated at University College, and admitted to Lincoln's Inn in 1780. A keen fox hunter, he was probably the unnamed friend to whom Peter Beckford addressed his classic Thoughts on Hunting in 1781. Charlotte Grove raised a large family of ten children. The diaries of two of her daughters provide a record of the plays, art exhibitions, and social calls that absorbed her life during the early nineteenth century. One of her chief interests was the erection of a new house at Ferne, which began in 1811. She died on April 12, 1828. Her husband, a master of hounds for Wiltshire, survived her by almost twenty years but did not remarry. Romney carried out this commission with relative dispatch. Charlotte Grove had ten appointments in September and October 1788, and in the latter month Thomas Grove paid £84 for two paintings, this one of his wife and a pendant of himself, both of which Romney sent to Ferne, their Wiltshire home, on September 16, 1789. Some of the recorded sittings must have included Thomas Grove, whose name does not appear in Romney's diary. The omission suggests that the painter focused his efforts and attention on the woman of the pair, as was his custom. It is more difficult to account for Romney's unusual decision to orient both sitters toward the right. Customarily, husband and wife adopted mirroring positions so that they faced one another when hung together on a wall, as in Romney's pendant portraits of Susanna Lee Acton and her husband [cat.no. 84]. The alternative arrangement would not have conveyed as strong a sense of psychological relationship and of symmetrical balance, and there is no obvious explanation for it. The pose adopted for Charlotte Grove's portrait is a conventional one that Romney employed frequently during this period (for example, in Susanna (Miller) Lee Acton, 17.25). The handling, too, is rather mundane, lacking the dashing confidence that characterized the painter at his best. This is most evident in the skirt, where the paint was applied in a flat, undifferentiated manner and the folds were arranged crudely in graceless lines. Only in the highlights flashed across the cinched bodice and in the floating, ethereal cuffs of the sleeves do we glimpse the finesse of which Romney was capable. Of equally disappointing quality are the hands, lacking the gracefulness seen in other portraits by the artist. It is likely that during his ten sittings with Charlotte Grove he concentrated on her head, and that the rest of the canvas was executed primarily by assistants. Although Romney's biographer claimed that he never resorted to this standard practice, the sheer volume of his portraiture output (together with its uneven quality) undermines the reliability of this statement. The most striking feature of the portrait is Grove's outsized hat, fashioned of pink silk satin and black velvet and trimmed with three white ostrich plumes. The pink and black are echoed in the broadly striped fabric that falls from the oversized apron bow at the sitter's back. Aileen Ribeiro has pointed out the structural improbability of this detail and concluded that the pink and black stripe were enlarged for purely visual purposes, to echo the colors of the hat. The hat itself is rather fanciful, an exaggerated version of that which appears in Peter Paul Rubens's painting of Helena Fourment, which was highly admired in the eighteenth century and romanticized as a portrait of the artist's wife. The placement of Charlotte Grove's hands, held over her waist and crossed at the wrists, also derives from the Rubens painting. In addition to conjuring nostalgic associations with an earlier historical epoch, these allusions may carry connotations of connubial bliss. Despite the technical shortcomings noted above, Romney's painting of Charlotte Grove was highly regarded in the late nineteenth century. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881 along with Gainsborough's portrait of Penelope, Viscountess Ligonier (11.29), and it was engraved in mezzotint by H. Scott Bridgwater in 1898. It had been separated from its pendant the previous year when the two pictures were sold out of the Grove family collection. Although the portrait pales beside finer Romneys in the Huntington collection, it provides fascinating insights into the tactics by which a fashionable Georgian artist coped with his enormous portraiture business.