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The portrait has always been known as ‘Mrs Johnstone and her Son’ since it was acquired in 1898, but probably represents instead Mrs Martha Ford, the mistress of West Florida governor George Johnstone, and their son, Alexander Patrick Johnstone. Johnstone married Charlotte Dee in Portugal in 1782, after the relationship with Martha Ford had ended, but there is documentation suggesting that this portrait was painted in the late 1770s. The identity of the sitters was perhaps left deliberately vague when the painting was bequeathed to the nation by a descendant of Governor Johnstone.

February 2016