Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Painting of the Day: “Miss Elizabeth Ingram,” Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1757

Miss Elizabeth Ingram
Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1757
The Walker Art Gallery

At first glance, this appears to be a typical Mid-Eighteenth Century painting. We have the sitter posed in a vaguely Classical background—as was the style of the day. Her intellectual and social status is made clear to us by the Greek-inspired column. Attired in her finest gown, she gazes out at the viewer in a gentle, yet resolute, manner.

However, on further inspection, we see what made Joshua Reynolds one of the most celebrated portrait painters of the era. Notice the details in her gown—the folds and sheen of the silk, the pinched rigidity of her stomacher. These are the qualities which set Reynolds’ work apart from his contemporaries.

Modern viewers—especially younger people who seem to enjoy being tan (or orange, in some cases), Miss Ingram will probably seem quite pale. While it’s true that a lady would not have had the leathery glow of our current “ideal beauty,” she wouldn’t have wanted to have quite such a pallid countenance either. Usually, Eighteenth Century ladies were painted with very rosy cheeks and skin. Thus was the case of Miss Ingram whose face and hands originally had a lovely pink-ish quality. Reynolds and his fellow artists of the Eighteenth Century often used pink pigments which proved to be unstable over time. Many portraits from this era feature pale subjects who were once quite healthy looking—having lost their natural blush to the fading of time. 

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