circa 1780 oil on canvas
Sir Joshua Reynolds, English, 1723 – 1792
95 x 58 (241.3 x 147.3 cm)
Neoclassical, Portrait and Grand Manner
Photograph from: The Legion of Honor, San Francisco, CA September 2009
Joshua Reynolds, (1) a renowned English portrait painter uses the “Grand Manner” (2) portraiture style; a style in which gives larger than life impressions of the portrayed and the style in which he helped develop. The showing of idealized and elite status is done through invention, such as adding classical associations, altering body proportions and lowering horizon lines. Anne Montgomery, a Viscountess, daughter of an Irish parliament member and wife to George, the 4th Viscount Townsend is portrayed.
The first impression is its size and presence, her size and presence. Anne Montgomery is posing for her portrait, but she’s presented full length with nature as the background, not indoors. To her right, she is leaning on a classical stone relief carving depicting the Judgment of Paris. There are only two of the three goddesses present represented in the tale. A dog sits at the feet of Paris and looks up at two Goddesses, and Paris extends his arm offering the golden apple. All appear cordial and serene in this miniaturization of the Greek drama.
Anne’s body is also wrapped in a Greek-Roman classical style; a white flowing draped short-waist, diaphanous gown. Her body is strangely out of proportion, with tiny shoulders and small bust that connects to a smaller waistline and then expands into a much larger abdomen and even thicker, longer and wider thighs, suggesting strength and fertility. Her right forearm, at the elbow as thick as her neck, suggesting strength and fortitude.
The Ermine mantle shows that she is a Viscountess, but it appears to be nonchalantly flung off her shoulders and over the stone relief shadowing the classical Greek scene. The mantle then flows off the relief in a diagonal direction wrapping behind Anne’s buttocks and appearing again at her mid thigh and then falling to the ground. The mantle draws the viewer’s eyes to her thighs and even more accentuates them.
Again, she is outdoors in nature. A large tree is behind her and the stone relief carving filling most of the background. Dark storm clouds over her head cover most of the sky. Darkness is behind her, but a small break of sunshine at the horizon illuminates Anne’s hips at her left. (Again Reynolds wants us to look at her thighs.) At the lower left of the painting is the landscape, slanting and rolling in from the horizon line to Anne’s feet giving an appearance that she is elevated and above the earthy plane.
Her skin is white and pale giving her the looks of a very well pedigreed lady, not someone who has seen much life outside of a well controlled and sheltered environment. Her face however, Reynolds has added pinkish colored rouge on her cheeks, creating a vibrant and youthful glow. Her head is leaning on her right hand with index finger pointing to her temple, and the appearance of the pink rouge from her cheeks is reflected on her hand. Her hands seem distorted, poorly depicted, weak, and rubbery. They do not match the forearms, and this almost upsets the composition as a whole with everything else that has been carefully, adoringly crafted and staged. If Reynolds is trying to depict her hands in motion, the illusion is missing.
As most of the background is muted and in earthy tones, Anne’s contrasted appearance at the center of everything is illuminating. The only strong colors are the mantle in red and sash in blue; indicating royalty. The description placard at the Legion of Honor cited the “Grand Manner Style” another style other than what I thought was neoclassical (because some of the elements presented; the Greek drama portrayal, classical calm expression on the model and her gown) Sir Joshua Reynolds excludes Venus from the classical stone relief and ultimately depicts Anne, as the fairest of all and this is very grand indeed.