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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. Reynolds was the Academy’s first president. He developed the ‘Grand Manner’ style which aimed to elevate portraiture to the level of high art. In this portrait, the aristocratic Montgomery sisters 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.

February 2016