Catherine Kerr (née Dod), 1656-1748

A three-quarter length portrait of Catherine Kerr (née Dod or Dodd), 1656-1748. The sitter has pale brown hair piled on top of her head. She wears a brown dress ornamented with pearl fastenings on the upper arm and at the waist. Her right hand rests in her lap while her left hand is raised, clasping a red shawl to her breast. She is seated with her elbow resting on stone plinth. Behind her is the base of a broken column. The composition is typical of Dahl’s female portraiture. He often depicted his wealthy female subjects leaning on plinths in classical settings.

The sitter was born in 1656 in Calverhall, Shropshire. A daughter of the wealthy landowner Robert Dod (sometimes spelled Dodd), she and her younger sister Mary (1660-1722) inherited the family estates following the death of their brother John in 1694. Both Catherine and Mary married Scottish naval officers. Mary’s husband was Vice-Admiral Sir David Mitchell (c. 1650-1710), while Catherine married Commodore the Honourable William Kerr, a grandson of the Earl of Lothian. He died on 24 May 1721 and was buried in St Mary Abbotts Church, Kensington. Catherine lived as a widow for another twenty-seven years, eventually dying at Yardley on 22 March 1748. As she had no surviving children, her estates passed at her death to her cousin, John Dod.

The museum also holds a portrait of the sitter’s husband William, BHC4146. Dahl painted the present portrait and BHC4146 as a pendant pair. The date of this commission is not recorded, although the pair may be speculatively dated to around 1706, since William’s portrait depicts the ‘Rupert’, which he commanded between 1706 and 1708. The two portraits remained together until 1982, when they were sold as separate lots at auction. William’s portrait was purchased for the museum but Catherine’s continued in private hands. The museum eventually acquired the painting in 2019, enabling the two portraits to be displayed together once again, as they were originally designed to be seen.

Dahl’s pendant portraits show William and Catherine Kerr in different settings, creating separate masculine and feminine identities for the couple. William is posed on a rocky seashore with a view of his ship in the distance, alluding to his public role as a naval officer. By contrast, the present portrait associates Catherine with the feminine qualities of beauty and refinement, depicting her against a backdrop of elegant classical architecture. At the same time, colour harmonies establish a visual link between the two portraits with both Catherine and William wearing shades of brown and red.

The museum also holds a portrait of Sir David Mitchell (BHC4145), who was married to Catherine’s younger sister Mary. This too was originally part of a marital pendant pair. The pendant portrait of Mary Mitchell (née Dod/Dodd) is currently untraced.

Object Details

ID: ZBA9230
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Dahl, Michael
Date made: circa 1706
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Painting: 1250 mm x 1020 mm; Frame; 1449 x 1237 x 85 mm: Overall weight: 31.8kg

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