Summary of findings
Paintings conservator retouching the painting
As there are no documents or letters surviving which relate to Gainsborough's portrait of Viscountess Folkestone and its commission we can only guess at why the composition was changed and whether it was the decision of the artist or the sitter.
Certainly the soft light of the interior with the green curtain disappearing into the dimly lit corners of the room focuses our attention fully on the sitter.
Gainsborough employs a subtle range of colour with the green curtain echoed in the blue-green shadows of the drapery and the cool pallor of the skin. The white dress, even with all discoloured varnish removed, remains slightly yellowed in contrast to the blue-white, transparent lace at her chest; a device which renders the aged fabric and its rather old-fashioned style a metaphor for its elderly wearer.
The finished painting is a portrait of great sensitivity and one of the finest examples of Gainsborough’s technical brilliance.