This characterful portrait by John Downman depicts Arabella Graham-Clarke, the maternal grandmother of the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
John Downman was born in Ruabon, North Wales, in 1750 and moved to London to become an artist in 1769, training with Benjamin West and enrolling as one of the first students at the newly formed Royal Academy Schools. After a Grand Tour to Italy, where he travelled with Joseph Wright of Derby, Downman returned to London in 1776 and established a practice as a portraitist: first in Cambridge, then in London and the West Country. Within a few years of his return to London in 1779, he gained a reputation as one of the most fashionable portraitists of the day, and was patronised by the royal family, as well as such fashion icons as the Duchess of Devonshire, the Duchess of Richmond, and Mrs Siddons. His popularity was largely dependent on his ability to work quickly and in quantity. In order to do so he gave up portraits in oil and devised a technique of working in chalks on a lightweight wove paper. This fine portrait depicts Arabella, daughter of Roger Altham, a Proctor in Doctor’s Commons, London. She married John Graham (later Graham-Clarke) in 1780 and lived at Fenham Hall, County Durham. Graham-Clarke was a considerable plantation owner, their son was compensated for several plantations in Jamaica.