The foundation of the Royal Academy of Arts in 1768 gave British artists a new professional status and the means to distinguish themselves from their artisan colleagues. The Academy’s first president, Joshua Reynolds, led the campaign to raise the profile and status of British art.
Reynolds developed the ‘Grand Manner’ style which aimed to elevate portraiture to the level of high art. This was largely to be achieved through classical allusion. In this portrait, the aristocratic Montgomery sisters, dressed in the classical style, pay homage to the Greek god of marriage. Their poses are taken directly from the work of admired old master painters, which lend them a certain dignity but also laid Reynolds open to charges of plagiarism.