Having established a portrait practice in London, in 1749 Joshua Reynolds embarked on a journey to Italy, where during a two-year stay in Rome he studied the artistic canon of the antique, Michelangelo, Raphael, and the great Venetian masters. Upon his return he often cast his sitters in poses from these sources, creating a new historical or grand style based on “the simplicity of the antique air and attitude.” Reynolds’s position as the first president of the Royal Academy of Arts enabled him to fulfill his goal of elevating the status of the painter in his native Britain to that of a man of learning. Through the exposure of his works at the annual exhibitions at the Academy, and the Discourses on Art he delivered to its members and students, Reynolds became the preeminent arbiter of style in his day and exerted tremendous influence on the arts.
The sitter in the Kimbell portrait may be identifiable as the “Miss Warren” who appears in Reynolds’s records as sitting for the artist between January 1758 and May 1759. Often incorrectly identified as Frances Warren, second wife of Sir George Warren, the wealthy member of parliament for Lancaster, she is, in fact, more likely to be his sister, Elizabeth Warren. This portrait is one of Reynolds’s earliest essays in the grand manner, in which beauty and grandeur are achieved by avoiding the particularities of local fashions. Miss Warren’s simple, wrap-around morning gown displays the contours of her figure and lends the portrait a timeless, classical effect. Her idealized form has something of the quality and dignity of sculpture, with smooth, alabaster skin and graceful drapery folds. The proportions of the figure above the high waist are deliberately diminished, while her hips and thighs swell like the oversized urn beside her, perhaps alluding to her female role as a fecund vessel.
Adult: Portrait of a Woman, Possibly Elizabeth Warren
Adult: Portrait of a Woman, Possibly Elizabeth Warren, Clothing
Probably Thomas James Bulkeley (later Warren-Bulkeley), 7th viscount Bulkeley of Cashel, and lord Bulkeley, baron of Beaumaris [1752-1822], Baron Hill, Beaumaris, Anglesey, Wales;
by inheritance to his nephew, Richard Williams-Bulkeley, 10th baronet [1801-1875], Baron Hill, Beaumaris, Anglesey;
by inheritance to his son, Richard Lewis Mostyn Williams-Bulkeley, 11th baronet [1833-84], Baron Hill, Beaumaris, Anglesey;
by inheritance to his son, Richard Henry Williams-Bulkeley, 12th baronet [1862-1942], Baron Hill, Beaumaris, Anglesey, and London;
(his sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 28 April 1922, no. 43, purchased by Duveen for £4800);
(Duveen Brothers, London and New York).
William Randolph Hearst [1863-1951], New York and San Simeon, California;
(his sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, Inc., New York, 5-7 January 1939, no. 26).
(Newhouse Galleries, Inc., New York);
purchased by Kimbell Art Foundation, Fort Worth, 1961.