This half-length portrait shows a female sitter, forward facing, with her head turned slightly to the left.
The lady is shown in a blue robe held together with intricate clasps over an informal white decollete dress. Her coiffed brown hair is dressed high in the current fashion and she is posed holding a small miniature or mirror with her left hand. The artist’s handling of paint has bestowed the sitter beautifully delicate features and a graceful expression. She gazes down at the object in her hand, lowering her eyes away from the viewer.
The identity of the sitter has not yet been securely identified.
Reynolds was the leading English portraitist of the 18th century. Through study of ancient and Italian Renaissance art, and of the work of Rembrandt, Rubens and Van Dyck, he brought great variety and dignity to British portraiture.
Reynolds was born at Plympton in Devon, the son of a headmaster and fellow of Balliol College, Oxford: a more educated background than that of most painters. He was apprenticed in 1740 to the fashionable London portraitist Thomas Hudson, who also trained Wright of Derby. He spent 1749-52 abroad, mainly in Italy, and set up practice in London shortly after his return.
He soon established himself as the leading portrait painter, though he was never popular with George III. He was a key figure in the intellectual life of London, and a friend of Dr Johnson. When the Royal Academy was founded in 1768, Reynolds was elected its first President. Although believing that history painting was the noblest work of the painter, he had little opportunity to practise it, and his greatest works are his portraits.