Sir Joshua Reynolds

Lady Bampfylde


Not on display

Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723–1792
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2381 × 1480 mm
frame: 2752 × 1845 × 144 mm
Bequeathed by Alfred de Rothschild 1918


Reynolds noted a single appointment with 'Lady Bamfield' in his pocket book on 10 April 1777, less than two weeks before the present picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy. By this date the portrait would have been virtually complete, the final sitting being used to add some final touches or refinements. Earlier sittings almost certainly took place in 1776, although since the pocket book for that year is missing, it is not possible to determine when they occurred.

Catherine Moore (c. 1754-1832) was the eldest of four daughters of Admiral Sir John Moore (1718-79). She married Charles Warwick Bampfylde (1753-1823), eldest son of Sir Richard Warwick Bampfylde (1722-76), Member of Parliament for Exeter and Devon, on 9 February 1776. Several months later, in August 1776, her husband succeeded his father as 5th Baronet. The present portrait was presumably commissioned to celebrate the couple's marriage. Lady Bampfylde is dressed in flowing white draperies. In her bosom she wears a pansy, her right hand gesturing towards a white lily, the time-honoured emblem of purity. The lily is framed against the stone pedestal upon which she rests her left arm, while below on the ground are daisies, gentians and what appear to be tiny pink pompon dahlia. Lady Bampfylde's pose, her right arm extended across her torso towards the lily, her left arm artfully placed upon the stone plinth, is a witty adaptation of the famous classical statue, the Venus de' Medici, here reversed. In the classical statue the goddess's hands are positioned over her breasts and genitalia, simultaneously emphasising her modesty and her sexual potency. Here Reynolds has slightly lowered the left arm, while the gesturing right arm casts an artful shadow across the area of the figure's lower torso.

Despite the idealised image presented in Reynolds's portrait, Lady Bampfylde's marriage was not happy. Even before he succeeded to the baronetcy Sir Charles had frittered away two-thirds of his estate. As early as 1778 rumours of lavish expenditure and infidelity on the part of Lady Bampfylde were also being circulated. Lady Bampfylde eventually produced a son and heir in 1787, although shortly afterwards she and her husband separated. In 1823 a former servant murdered Sir Charles in a London square, before turning the gun on himself. Lady Bampfylde, who rushed to tend her estranged husband in his dying moments, never remarried and died in 1832, aged about seventy-eight.

Further reading:

David Mannings and Martin Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds. A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols., New Haven and London 2000, vol.1, p.71, vol.2, p.463, fig.1179

Martin Postle
December 2000

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Display caption

This picture was exhibited as Portrait of a Lady at the Royal Academy in 1777. Visitors to the exhibition would usually be able to identify the celebrities or members of high society who featured in portraits. The sitter here is Catherine Moore, and the painting was commissioned to mark her marriage to Charles Warwick Bampfylde, MP. Reynolds’s painting presents her as both stylish and timeless. Her hair is piled extremely high as was fashionable in the 1770s, but her pose resembles the classical statue, the Venus de’ Medici, which was regarded at the time as the embodiment of timeless female beauty. She gestures towards a lily, traditional symbol of purity.

Gallery label, March 2019

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