Thomas Hudson (British 1701 - 1779)
Portrait of Mary Browne (1721 - 1773)
Oil on canvas
Signed (lower left); later inscribed with sitter's details (upper right)
127 x 101cm (50 x 39¾ in.)
Painted circa 1759
Commissioned by Sir William Browne
Thence by inheritance to Mary Ffolkes and descent in the Ffolkes family to Sir Robert Ffolkes, 7th Baronet (b.1943), by 1979
Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, Norwich 1928, vol. I, p.248, no.22, London, Kenwood House, Thomas Hudson 1701-1779, 1979, under no.25
Thomas Hudson was one of the most fashionable portrait painters in London in the mid-18 th Century. He taught Sir Joshua Reynolds and his sitters included the Duke of Cumberland and George Frederic Handel. In 1748 he visited France and the Low Countries with his friend William Hogarth. and his works of the 1750s, such as this, reflect his exposure to the sensuous handling of Flemish painting, as well as elements of the French rococo.
Mary Browne was the daughter of the wealthy physician Sir William Browne (1692-1774), and his wife Mary Greene. Browne began to practice medicine in the prosperous seaport and market town of King's Lynn, Norfolk, in 1716. He became a few of the Royal Society and was knighted in 1748. The following year he moved to London and settled in Queen's Square, Bloomsbury - not far from Hudson's fine house in Great Queen Street. In 1759 he commissioned this portrait, together with one of his wife. Both sitters wear silver satin dresses trimmed with delicate lace. Hudson also painted Sir William three times, firstly 1745-49, as a portly, prosperous Lynn physician, with St Nicholas's church in the background, again in 1766 in his pomp as the newly appointed President of the Royal College of Physicians and again on his retirement, which he gifted to the college.
Mary married William ffolkes (d.1773) of Hillington Hall, Norfolk in 1747. The ffolkes were an ancient Norfolk family dating back to before the 14 th Century and had connections to the Walpole's of Houghton and later in the century, to Admiral, Lord Nelson. William ffolkes was a lawyer and agent for the Dukes of Montagu, Richmond and Manchester. Their only son, Martin, was born on 21st May 1749. After Eton, he studied at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and entered Lincoln's Inn in 1768. On his grandfather Sir William Browne's death in 1774, he restyled himself as Browne ffolkes and was created a Baronet. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1772, was High Sheriff of Norfolk 1783-84 and was MP for King's Lynn from 1790 until his death in 1821.
Browne is memorialised with his daughter Mary and generations of the ffolkes family in Hillington church. Those records, and Hudson's portraits, commemorate two remarkable and fascinating East Anglian families.