The Cholmondeley Ladies is a great favourite with the public. It’s one of our iconic and we always have it on display. Although it’s such a favourite we don’t really know very much about it. It’s first mentioned in a history of Cheshire in 1882 as being in a corridor in a house called Vale Royal, but before that there’s no documentary evidence of it at all. We don’t know who painted it which is not uncommon for portraits of this period. We don’t even know who the sitters are.
It has an inscription on it; that’s our key piece of evidence that says, two ladies of the Cholmondeley family who were born the same day, married the same day and brought to bed the same day, and brought to be bed means brought to bed of a baby, they had a baby on the same day. We know nothing about the history of this picture. It’s full of mysteries, it’s full of puzzles. You’re always playing detective. It’s difficult to know but I think members of the public probably assume that they’re twins. While ostensibly they look identical, it becomes clear that there are quite a lot of differences; the woman on the left has blue eyes and her baby has blue/grey eyes, the woman on the right has dark brown eyes and her baby has lighter brown eyes. I think this is so popular because the Twenty-First Century eye is very accustomed to this kind of linearity, simplicity, non-naturalism while at the same time the subject matter, child birth, mother and baby, it’s something that speaks to everybody.