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Eliza and Mary Davidson

This painting depicts two young girls, dressed in fine gowns, and seated in a leafy landscape. The portrait was previously called Eliza and Mary Davidson, but recent research has called the identity of the sitters into question.

It is possible that the girls could be Mary (1776–1839), the fifth Davidson sister, and either Lydia (1771–1845) or Harriet (1775–1829). This seems unlikely however, as it would raise the question as to why only two of the sisters were painted, when the three of them were in London from 1784.

It has been suggested that the sitters might instead be Eliza (1769–1831) and Margaret (1770–84) Davidson. They were the two eldest daughters of Alexander Davidson (1742–91), who served as the Acting Governor of Madras from 1785–86. Eliza and Margaret are potentially the subjects of the portrait as they were the only Davidson sisters living in London around the time the painting was created by Tilly Kettle (1735–86). Kettle was also in London at this point, having returned to England from India in 1776.

While it is still feasible that the girls could be Eliza and Mary, their age difference and lack of contemporary written evidence makes it difficult to know for certain. Ultimately, the identity of the sitters, or the exact date of the painting, may never be conclusively known.

Not currently on display

Tilly Kettle
c. 1784
127 x 101.9 cm
Oil on canvas
Fairfax Murray Gift, 1911
Accession number
Adopted by the Leche Trust, 1998