Lady Hamilton as a Bacchante
This is a stunning portrait. It was painted between 1790 and 1792 by the French artist Elizabeth Vigée Le Brun and depicts the famous 18th-century beauty Emma Hart, who was born at Neston on the Wirral. From humble beginnings, Emma used her beauty and vivacious character as assets, and managed to ingratiate herself with London's high society. She had affairs with a number of well-to-do and famous men, including Charles Francis Greville, the son of the Earl of Warwick, Sir William Hamilton whom she went on to marry and Lord Horatio Nelson. Emma also became a model for many leading artists, including Sir Joshua Reynolds, Sir Thomas Lawrence and George Romney. In the background, at the bottom left, is the volcano Vesuvius, which tells us that the painting was done while Emma was living in Italy with Sir William Hamilton, envoy to Naples. In fact, Vigée Le Brun painted four portraits of Emma during this time, showing her striking her expressive poses - or attitudes. She devised these to entertain her friends, basing them on Classical characters. Here she's in the role of a Bacchante, who assisted at the celebrations of Bacchus, the roman God of wine. Notice that she's dressed in a Classical costume and her hair is decorated with vine leaves. The painting captures a wonderful sense of movement and vitality as Emma dances across the canvas with hair flowing in the breeze.