Margaret Sarah Carpenter

Self-portrait of Margaret Carpenter (1817)

Margaret Sarah Carpenter (Salisbury 1793 13 November 1872 London), born Margaret Sarah Geddes, was a British painter. Noted in her time, she mostly painted portraits in the manner of Sir Thomas Lawrence. She was a close friend of Richard Parkes Bonington.

Early life

She was born in Salisbury, the daughter of Captain Alexander Geddes, who was of an Edinburgh family, and Harriet Easton. She was taught art by a local drawing-master. Her first art studies were made from the pictures at Longford Castle, belonging to Lord Radnor.[1]


A young girl by Margaret Sarah Carpenter (1839)

In 1812, one of her copies of the head of a boy was awarded a medal by the Society of Arts, who awarded her another medal in 1813, and a gold medal in 1814.[2] She went to London in 1814, and soon established her reputation as a fashionable portrait painter.[1] She exhibited a portrait of Lord Folkestone at the Royal Academy in 1814, and a picture entitled ‘The Fortune Teller’ at the British Institution. She exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy between 1818 and 1866. She also exhibited at the British Institution and at the Suffolk Street Gallery.

Of her Head of a Polish Jew, exhibited at the British Institution in 1823, a reviewer wrote: "It very rarely happens that a specimen of art like this is produced from the hand of a lady: Here are colour, light, strength and effect, and anatomical drawing".[3] This painting was bought for 45 guineas by the Marquess of Stafford, one of the most influential art patrons of the day, who had previously bought her medal-winning painting of 1813. The Picture has recently resurfaced at auction (with some fire damage) and been purchased back by a family relative in December 2013 for restoration.[4]

Among her exhibited portraits were those of Sir H. Bunbury (1822), Lady Denbigh (1831), and Lady King (better known as Ada Lovelace (1835). Her last work was a portrait of Dr. Whewell. Three of her works are in the National Portrait Gallery, including portraits of her husband, Bonington and John Gibson, R.A.. There are also several 'leaving portraits' by her in the collection at Eton College. There is also one of her portraits at Frewen College, of Helen Louisa Frewen and her son Edward. Her "Portrait of a Lady" hangs in the Neill-Cochran House Museum in Austin, Texas.

Her portraits follow in the tradition of Lawrence, but Wood found them to be more fanciful and feminine character, particularly in her portraits of children.


In 1817, she married William Hookham Carpenter, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum.[5] Their children included two noted painters, another William and Percy Carpenter, who both travelled.[6] She introduced her sister Harriet to the young painter William Collins. They eventually married, making Margaret the aunt to Wilkie Collins, novelist and friend to Charles Dickens.[7] On her husband's death in 1866, she was given an annual pension of £100 by Queen Victoria.[1] This award was partly based on her husband's service, but also in recognition of her own artistic merits. She died in London in her 80th year.

See also

English women painters from the early 19th century who exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art


  1. 1 2 3 Brian Stewart & Mervyn Cutten (1997). The Dictionary of Portrait Painters in Britain up to 1920. Antique Collectors' Club. ISBN 1 85149 173 2.
  2. Smith, Richard J, Margaret Sarah Carpenter, A Brief Biography, Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum, 1993
  3. Whitley, W.T, Art in England 1821-1837, Cambridge, 1930
  4. The Literary Gazette of Belles Lettres, Arts and Sciences; Volume 7, p.268, 1823
  5.  Carpenter, William Hookham (1887). "Carpenter, William Hookham". In Stephen, Leslie. Dictionary of National Biography. 09. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  6. The Golden Temple at Amritsar, William Carpenter, Feb. 1854, Victoria and Albert Museum, ref IS.50–1882, accessed July 2010
  7. The King of Inventors. Catherine Peters


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