Materials: Oil on oak panel
Measurements: 75.5 x 63 cm
Inv. no. P47
This portrait of Jane Braddyll (died 1819) was one of the last portraits that Reynolds painted before his eyesight failed him. Jane was born the daughter of Matthias Gale of Catgill Hall.
In 1776, she married Wilson Gale (1756–1818) of Conishead Priory, who adopted her surname. Wilson pursued an ambitious career in public office, rising to become a member of parliament for Lancaster, Horsham and Carlisle, as well as groom of the bedchamber to George III (1738–1820).
Wilson first commissioned Reynolds to paint a full-length portrait of him and Jane with their son, Thomas Richmond Gale (1776–1862), in 1783. Later, in 1788, he turned again to Reynolds for portraits, commissioning the artist to paint half-length pendant portraits of himself, a painting now in a private collection, and Jane, which is the painting here.
The artist painted the couple between January and May 1788, the relatively large number of sittings they had with Reynolds suggesting that the artist worked on the paintings himself, rather than employing a studio assistant. Once completed, Wilson paid Reynolds 100 guineas for the pair of portraits. Reynolds painted the couple, with their son, again in 1789, in a portrait now in the Fitzwilliam Museum.
Jane’s portrait, which was designed to face that of her husband, shows her looking left with downcast eyes, resting her right arm on a ledge while holding her hand beneath her chin. The pose bears a distinct similarity to one made by Frances, Countess of Lincoln (1751–1820), in her Reynolds portrait.
However, unlike Frances, Jane was not grieving the loss of a loved one. Therefore, it is likely that Jane’s pose is instead associated with the cherished 18th-century qualities of introspection and sensibility, rather than mourning. She wears a fashionable chemise dress with black mantle (of a type made fashionable by the socialite Mrs Mary Robinson; 1756/58?–1800), coupled with a curled wig, a ringlet from which unravels down her left shoulder.
The background behind Jane is made of dense woodland, but investigation has revealed that Reynolds initially intended for this area of the canvas to be open, showing more of the sky beyond. It is possible the artist made this change as he felt the sense of melancholy created by the woodland was more suited to the mood of the sitter, who appears to be in a contemplative state.
Reynolds created the brooding atmosphere of the background by using a combination of drying oil and mastic and pine resins. This unstable combination, however, led to cracking in the paint, which early repairs, possibly made in Reynolds’s studio, attempted to remedy.
After passing to her son and being bought by the politician Lord Charles Townshend, Jane’s portrait was sold at auction in 1854 to Samuel Mawson (1793–1862) – the 4th Marquess of Hertford’s (1800–1870) art agent. Before the sale, Mawson warned Hertford of the cracking visible on the surface of the paint. Regardless, Hertford bought the portrait, asking Mawson to have it ‘cooked up’ and to ‘arrange the Reynolds in your best manner so that I should find Mrs Braddyll a few years younger than she is at present’.
Traditionally, this has been seen as signalling that substantial alterations were made to the painting, but close inspection, and comparison with a mezzotint produced of the portrait by Samuel Cozens in 1848, revealed that any changes made to the work were minimal.
Text adapted from Davis, L., 'Mrs Jane Braddyll', in Davis, L., and M. Hallett, Joshua Reynolds. Experiments in Paint, London, 2015, no. 20.