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This portrait shows the famous Italian dancer Giovanna Zanerini, known on the stage as Baccelli, at the height of her career. Her elaborate costume seems to be adapted from the ballet Les Amants Surpris in which she had recently taken London by storm. Baccelli was the mistress of John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset who commissioned the painting. The rapid brushwork, translucent paint and shimmering light effects are typical of Gainsborough’s style at this time. When the portrait was first exhibited, it was chiefly praised as an excellent likeness; ‘as the Original, light airy and elegant’.

February 2016