René Théodore Berthon, French, 1776-1859
Title: Portrait of Lady Morgan (Sydney Owenson) (1776-1859), Writer
Date: c.1818
Medium: Oil on canvas
130 x 98 cm
Signed: lower left: Berthon
Credit Line: Bequeathed, Lady Morgan, 1860
Object Number: NGI.133
DescriptionSydney Morgan was a novelist, poet and travel writer. She grew up in Dublin where her father was actor-manager of the Theatre Royal and worked briefly as a governess before publishing a small volume of verse set to Irish tunes, in the manner of Thomas Moore. She published her first novel St Clair in 1802 and her third novel The Wild Irish Girl, published four years later, was hugely successful. Morgan held a literary salon at her house in Kildare Street, Dublin, travelled widely and incorporated her experiences into her writing. Her work, which was strongly nationalist in tone, was popular with Catholic emancipationists and Liberals. She was the first woman to receive a civil-list pension for writing.
Berthon, a former pupil of Jacques-Louis David, painted this portrait in Paris. Lady Morgan requested him to execute it in her hotel apartments rather than in his studio so that she could receive visitors during painting sessions. She is depicted in a contemplative pose at her writing desk, quill in hand. The vase before her holds a bunch of wild roses, perhaps suggestive of Irish nationalism and her untamed Romantic spirit.

March 2016
ProvenanceCommissioned, Lady Morgan, Paris, 1818; bequeathed, Lady Morgan, Paris, 1860
Exhibition HistoryThe Irish Institution, 1860

Exhibition of the Fine Arts and Ornamental Arts, Dublin, 1861
Label TextLady Morgan found fame as the author of the novel The Wild Irish Girl. She ran a social and literary salon at 35 Kildare Street, Dublin, and travelled widely, incorporating her experiences into her writing. This portrait was painted by Berthon, a pupil of Jacques-Louis David, in a Paris hotel at Lady Morgan’s request. She wished to receive visitors during the sitting. In the language of the time she 'called up a look' for the painting. Berthon has transformed her into a modern version of the Greek poetess Sappho, composing her verses in a fashionable Empire-style dress.