Adam’s: Hugh Douglas Hamilton

Hugh Douglas Hamilton (1739–1808) Portrait of Maria Susanna Ormbsy, seated holding a sketch book 1796 oil on board 67x61cm

Colin Davidson is not the only Irish artist to have executed a portrait of the Queen of England. In 1764 Hugh Douglas Hamilton did a chalk portrait of Queen Charlotte that currently resides in the Royal Collection. A hitherto unknown work, Portrait of Maria Susanna Ormbsy, by Hamilton turned up at Adam’s March auction and achieved €26,000, a relatively modest yield for a fascinating portrait. It emerged from the recent disposal of the Harlech Collection in Wales, a provenance that suggests that the portrait had remained with the Ormbsy family since it was painted in 1796.

Hugh Douglas Hamilton is best known here for his portrait of Lord Edward Fitzgerald

The subject was the daughter of William Ormbsy MP For Sligo. Her brother Owen married a Margaret Owen who inherited a very substantial Welsh estate. Later, through marriage, the family became Ormbsy-Gore and were absorbed into English high society with a title from the Barony of Harlech. Hamilton was born in Dublin in 1740, the son of a wig-maker. He made his reputation in London painting society portraits and later spent 12 years in Italy before returning to Dublin later in life. He is best known here for his portrait of Lord Edward FitzGerald. The portrait of Maria Susanna Ormbsy shows a strong-featured woman holding a substantial sketch book. Maria lived in Sackville Street, Dublin and died in 1827 at the age of 82. She was in her fifties when this beautifully composed study was painted. Her hands command attention. The left one is free from rings and indeed Maria never married. She presumably followed the vocation suggested by the sketch-book and the pencil in her right hand. Perhaps she was an early feminist, a strong, independent woman who followed her own interests and wasn’t subsumed into the conventional mores of her period.