National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Lady Elizabeth Delmé and Her Children Sir Joshua Reynolds (artist)
British, 1723 - 1792
Lady Elizabeth Delmé and Her Children, 1777-1779
oil on canvas
overall: 238.4 x 147.2 cm (93 7/8 x 57 15/16 in.) framed: 266.4 x 175.3 cm (104 7/8 x 69 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
1937.1.95
Not on View
From the Tour: British and American Grand Manner Portraits of the 1700s
Object 9 of 12

A daughter of the 4th Earl of Carlisle, Lady Betty, as she was known to her family, and her children sat for Reynolds in April and June of 1777. The two years that elapsed before the completion of this majestic group portrait would have noticeably aged the children, but Reynolds worked from abstract principles of design rather than observation of nature. One of his conceptions for Grand Manner likenesses was: “Each person should have the expression which men of his rank generally exhibit.”

Reynolds therefore suppressed psychological individuality to gain a grandeur appropriate for these aristocrats. Lady Betty graciously deigns to accept our presence. As heir to his father’s estate, John commandingly surveys the distance, and Isabella Elizabeth displays a coy shyness. Even the Skye terrier gazes upward with proper loyalty.

The figure group forms a pyramidal silhouette, and the beech trees accentuate a spatial wedge that recedes toward two vistas on the picture’s sides. This stable, triangular configuration is reminiscent of Holy Families, sheltered beneath canopies, painted by Raphael and Poussin. The earthy color scheme of ochers and umbers recalls the sonorous tones employed by Titian and Rembrandt. Reynolds’ ability to synthesize from so many sources astounded Thomas Gainsborough, who reportedly exclaimed, “Damn him, how various he is!”

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