2 thoughts on “Wordless Wednesday- Lady Russell

  1. Beautiful portrait and interesting that “a person of color” is included…could it be they had a good relationship and thus the lady wanted her “friend” included?


    1. One of the reasons I chose this portrait was for the person of color. We have a cultural imagining that they did not exist or only existed as slaves but that’s inaccurate and you can find them in many historical portraits. This is all I could find on the portrait regarding the servant.

      Reynolds’s “sitter-book” records eight appointments with Lady Keppel (1739–1768). The woman who accompanies her had two independent morning sittings in December 1761 (both after Keppel had been painted). We do not know her name, in place of which Reynolds entered a single word—“negro”—in his notebook. This terse archival trace confirms that she, like Lady Keppel, was painted from life.
      She is shown handing Keppel a garland of flowers with which to deck a statue of Hymen, the god of marriage. This detail alludes to Keppel’s recent role as a bridesmaid at the wedding of George III and Queen Charlotte. The dress worn by the servant may either be of glazed cotton, British silk, or possibly painted Chinese silk. If the woman was indeed Keppel’s servant, her dress may be a hand-me-down from her mistress, as was common in this period. The portrait (now at Woburn Abbey, UK) was exhibited at the Society of Artists as Whole length of a lady, one of her majesty’s bride maids. It was paid for by Lady Keppel’s brother, the third Earl of Albemarle (1724–1772). In 1762, shortly after the painting was finished, he would command British forces at the Battle of Havana, which resulted in Spain’s surrender of Cuba. This key victory of the Seven Years’ War reshaped the balance of power in the Atlantic.


      While I don’t remotely mean to imply racial equality or that I have a comprehensive understanding of it, but from everything I’ve read, slavery on English soil was a rare occurrence. Slaves were for labor in the colonies. Additionally, when the slave trade was abolished in 1807 and total emancipation achieved in 1838 nothing I have read mentions a large population of freed blacks in the nation. Such was the concern in the colonies. So, I think it’s safe to believe she was a servant and not a slave. As to if there was friendship, I’m less certain. It was still very trendy to have an exotic colored servant in the household.


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