'Mrs Peter Beckford' 1782
Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723 - 1792)
Oil on canvas, 239 x 147cm
Accession Number LL3125
This full-length portrait is characteristic of the works by which Reynolds represented himself, as its President, in the Royal Academy’s exhibitions of the 1780s.
The sitter, the wife of a Dorset gentleman, was of a delicate constitution and Reynolds portrays her making a libation (a drink-offering) to the Greek goddess of health, Hygeia, whose emblem was a snake.
At the time the portrait was painted Louisa Beckford was having an affair with her husband’s cousin, William Beckford. William was the author of the famous Gothic novel ‘Vathek’, and Reynolds’s conception, with its gloomy, smoke-filled atmosphere and elaborate play of light and shadow, may owe something to Beckford’s newly fashionable and aesthetic image.