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Orpen's portrait of his wife was painted while they were on a holiday at Margate with William and Mabel Nicholson and their children. They had been married only for a few years, and he portrayed her repeatedly. This portrait was studied by artificial light, and the stormy background added later, with its glimpse of sea and sand dune. The Orpens and Nicholsons loved to dress up. This conglomeration of gloves, scarf, veil, black ostrich feather and bonnet may not have been meant seriously, and Orpen often let loose his sense of humour in his private paintings. He was then just beginning his hardworking career as a society portrait painter, which was to lead to a great number of portraits of spectacular but prosaic realism.

September 2004