Joshua Reynolds, Joanna Leigh, Mrs Richard Bennett Lloyd (b.1758) Inscribing a Tree, 1775-1776; Waddesdon (Rothschild Family) On loan since 1995; acc. no. 103.1995.
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Joanna Leigh, Mrs Richard Bennett Lloyd inscribing her name on a tree, Joshua Reynolds

Mrs Lloyd has the ‘sweep’ and ‘sway’ that Reynolds advised his students to give to their figures. The shadows that dapple her skin and clothes suggest the movement in the landscape around her.

Reynolds manipulated the fall of light so that the viewer’s eye ranges over her face and shoulders, down her body and back and forth between her hands, one of which she presses against a stone plinth to steady herself while, with the other, she carves her new husband’s name. The motif of a lover carving the beloved’s name on a tree recalls the character Orlando in Shakespeare’s As You Like It, which was popular in London at the time. Pictorially, it was frequently used in Italian Baroque paintings to illustrate the story of Angelica and Medoro in the poem Orlando Furioso by Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533), which also appealed to 18th-century artists, including Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734), François Boucher (1703-1770) and Benjamin West (1738-1820). In a pastoral idiom, a woman inscribing a tree by C-H Watelet (1718-1786) formed the frontispiece to a popular book of bucolic poetry published in 1762 and republished in 1776, the year Mrs Lloyd was exhibited.

Mrs Lloyd inscribing her name on a tree demonstrates Reynolds’s ability to manipulate light. As seen in the shadows that dapple her skin and clothes (1758)
Mrs Lloyd inscribing her name on a tree demonstrates Reynolds’s ability to manipulate light. As seen in the shadows that dapple her skin and clothes (1758) © National Trust / Waddesdon Manor

However, Mrs Lloyd’s pose recalls a painting in pastoral mode by Francesco Imperiali (1679-1740) Erminia carving her true-love’s name, illustrating a passage in the epic poem Gerusalemme Liberata by Torquato Tasso (1644-95). Mrs Lloyd’s pose copied Raphael’s famous Adam and Eve, an etching after which Reynolds knew and which, for viewers who recognised the reference, introduced themes of temptation and desire into a work created to commemorate a marriage.

Reynolds was critical of the depiction of contemporary fashions in portraits, preferring more generalised, classicising drapery that he believed imbued the sitter with a timeless nobility. Visitors to Waddesdon often comment on the blue classical sandals. The tension in the silk straps and the pressure on the toes is suggested with decisive strokes of paint and careful shading.

See Francesco Imperiali, Erminia carving her true-love’s name >

See Marcantonio Raimondi, Adam and Eve flanked by two trees >

Full record details, Joanna Leigh, Mrs Richard Bennett Lloyd inscribing her name on a tree >