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    Sir Joshua Reynolds’ 1779–1780 Work: Anne, Viscountess Townshend, later Marchioness Townshend In the Permanent Collection of the Legion of Honor

    Anne Montgomery (1752?–1819) was the second of three beautiful daughters of an Irish peer. Celebrated as the “Irish Graces,” the sisters were immortalized in 1773 by Sir Joshua Reynolds in a grand-manner portrait entitled Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen (London, The Tate Gallery).

    That same year, Anne became the second wife of George, fourth Viscount Townshend, later Marquess Townshend. In 1779–1780, she sat for Reynolds for this elegant, full-length portrait.

    Conceived as a pendant to that of her husband (Toronto, Art Gallery of Ontario), both figures are rendered in rich, forceful color, posed in a sylvan setting, and draped with the ermine mantle symbolic of their temporal rank. Although the sitter’s simple gown is meant to suggest a timeless, classical ideal, Reynolds has embellished it with elements of Turkish fancy dress, popular in England during this period. Her hairstyle is fashionably contemporary.

    Reynolds dominated the English school in the second half of the eighteenth century. As a young artist in Rome, he had steeped himself in the antique. Later, as president of the Royal Academy of Arts, he delivered the famous discourses on aesthetic principles.

    Treating portraiture as a branch of history painting, Reynolds used classical themes, poses and statuary as references to the past. Here, the carved relief at the lower left depicts the Judgment of Paris, a popular mythological theme, with one two goddesses. Paris appears to ignore them as he offers Anne the golden apple, a witty and flattering conceit implying that Anne herself is Venus, the third and fairest.

    For more information about the Legion of Honor: