Oil painting on canvas, An Unknown Lady, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (Plympton 1723 - London 1792). 1753-1754. A half-length portrait of a lady. She wears pearl earrings and necklace, and a black decollete dress beneath a ermine fur-trimed jacket.
This bust length portrait is of an unidentified lady. The sitter is shown looking out at the viewer, turning her head slightly to the right. A slight halo of light around the head and shoulders of the sitter of F.32 reveal where the artist has painted up to the figure in the portrait. This also subtly illuminates the sitter to focus our attention on her. On looking at the portrait the head appears to be the most finished part of the painting. This can be seen particularly with the way paint has been applied to depict the soft texture of the skin and the fall of light on the sitter’s eyes. In comparison to the head the ermine mantle and pearl jewellery are painted in quite a sketchy manner. These parts of the portrait appear to be unfinished. They also appear to be by a different hand, suggesting that one of Reynolds’ studio assistants worked on the portrait.
This portrait is very similar in style to Reynolds' Young Woman in a Blue Dress (Private Collection; reproduced in Mannings and Postle, figure 87). In both these portraits the lady is placed in front of a dark neutral background, allowing us to focus on the sitter. Each figure wears her hear up with an ornament of pearls and ribbons on the right side of the crown of her head. The women also wear large pearl drop earrings and a choker of pears that ties with ribbons matching those in the headdress, at the back of her neck. As with Young Woman in a Blue Dress, the top edge of the chemise of the sitter in F.32 can be seen below the low cut of her satin dress. Over this dress the figure wears a cape that is edged with ermine. The luxurious materials of silk and combined with the sitter’s jewellery conveys her wealth whilst also bringing an interesting combination of textures to the portrait.
In their catalogue Mannings and Postle date Young Woman in a Blue Dress to 1753-4. Considering the strong similarity in dress between the sitter of this portrait and that in the V&A it is likely that F.32 also dates to 1753-4. Reynolds had returned to England in 1753 from Italy. In the years immediately following his return to England he based himself in London to establish a career as a portrait painter. It is therefore likely that this painting dates from this period when the artist was beginning his career as a portrait artist in the capitol of England.
[From V&A description]
Forster bequest to the Victoria and Albert Museum
Makers and roles
Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792), artist