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These are the aristocratic Montgomery sisters – Barbara, Elizabeth and Anne. Their father was the Irish aristocrat Sir William Montgomery and they were known as the Irish Graces. They are shown gathering flowers to decorate a statue of Hymen, the Roman god of marriage. Reynolds posed them in what he described as ‘a variety of graceful historical attitudes’. These were taken from the work of admired old master painters, such as the seventeenth-century French artist Nicolas Poussin. Reynolds intended this to ennoble his figures, but it also laid him open to charges of plagiarism.

May 2007