Francis Cotes (1726–1770)
Mary Heblethwayte, Lady Boynton (1749–1815)
Signed: FCotes pxt 1768 [F and C in monogram]
Oil on canvas, 94 1/2 x 58 in.
Collection Mrs. Henry C. Frick II
Location: East Gallery
Born in London, Francis Cotes was a renowned portrait painter whose successful career in England was rivaled only by those of contemporary artists Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. Cotes trained under George Knapton (1698–1778), from whom he learned to execute portraits in pastel and oil.
He portrayed Lady Boynton — born Mary Hebblethwaite (also spelled Heblethwayte) (1749–1815) — in 1768. That same year, she married Sir Griffith Boynton, 6th Baronet (1744–1778), who became heir to his family’s properties at Burton Agnes and Barmston, England, following his father’s death in 1761. Cotes painted Sir Griffith’s portrait in 1769 as a pendant to that of his wife’s. The pair hung in the family’s Elizabethan manor, Burton Agnes Hall, in Driffield, East Yorkshire, until their sale in 1911. The magnificent estate, built between 1598 and 1610, still serves as a residence for members of the Boynton family and is open to the public for an extended period each year.
Cotes places the graceful figure of Lady Boynton in an exterior arcadian setting. Her dazzling silk and lace gown is depicted in a palette of cream, rose, gold, and blue. Her right arm leans against a weathered stone pedestal, which may suggest the endurance of her husband’s old ancestral line, as well as the familial estate. In her right hand she clasps a sprig of honeysuckle, possibly a reference to her recent marriage. This portrait, that of Sir Griffith Boynton, and a pastel of Lord Orwell also executed by Cotes, were purchased by Henry Clay Frick in 1915 from M. Knoedler & Co. The large pendant pictures were installed at Frick’s summer residence, Eagle Rock, in Pride’s Crossing, Massachusetts. Upon Frick’s death the Boynton portraits descended through the Frick family.