10 Aug 2022

Tighe portrait in Sheppards sale

A PAINTING with links to the Tighes of Inistioge is at the centre of a sale by Sheppards Auction House of Durrow next week.

A PAINTING with links to the Tighes of Inistioge is at the centre of a sale by Sheppards Auction House of Durrow next week.

The painting by Theodosia Blachford (c. 1780) is a self portrait, seated three-quarter length, with her children, Mary and John, standing by a table with letters and writing accessories. The oil on canvas, signed with monogram (on the inkwell), is lot 348 in the sale.

It is included in Sheppards’ ‘The Legacy of the Big House Three-Day Sale’ on Tuesday, with viewings on Saturday, Sunday and Monday from 10am to 5pm. The sale will also take place online at

“This portrait can be dated to c.1 780 and is unique in Irish portraiture,” according to Sheppards. “The date and identification of the sitters are not in doubt. On her wrist Mrs Blachford wears the portrait miniature by Riley (NGI), of her husband who died in 1773. Owning Altadore Castle in Wicklow, the Reverend Blachford, librarian of Marshe’s Library, had married the serious Theodosia Tighe from nearby Rosanna. Independently minded, Theodosia dedicated her life to the education of her children, in particular Mary. Multi-lingual, musical and well read, Mary flourished under her mother’s educational system based on new ideas of education being propagated on the continent by Rousseau, and accepted the rigorous self-denial and discipline of her mother’s Methodism.

“She became a poet, but, what she found more difficult to reconcile, she also became astoundingly beautiful. She was vain enough to get Romney to paint her portrait (NGI) against her husband’s wishes. It was cruel; the artist has certainly captured her ethereal looks, but as she said ‘mine (her portrait) looks as if a pretty woman had wept herself pale and sick.’ The tuberculosis that would shortly kill her was obvious to the artist.”

She wrote her long narrative poem Psyche or The Legend of Love (1805) for which (after her death in 1810) she became famous. Few would now choose to read cantos of Psyche but it is taken weightily by academia in America because of its seminal influence on the young Keats. Some of her pastoral poetry inspired by Rossana and Woodstock remains fresh and delightful.

“It must be assumed that Theodosia was taught to paint by a family tutor,” according to Sheppards. “The Tighes were later to employ Maria Spilsbur Taylor, whose style the present lot anticipates and indeed to whom it was once attributed. If somewhat stiff and naive this is still an accomplished and well executed composition that connects us to an intellectual and enlightened milieu that flourished in late 18th-century Ireland.”

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