Sir Joshua Reynolds (English, 1723–1792)
The Ladies Waldegrave, 1780–81
Oil on canvas
56 1/4 x 66 1/4 in.
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland
This large-scale informal group portrait, or conversation piece, depicts the Waldegrave sisters, the grandnieces of the author and antiquarian Horace Walpole, who commissioned the work for his celebrated country house, Strawberry Hill. Reynolds’s gift for creating sophisticated compositions and rendering graceful gestures — at its height here — helped to establish him as one of the foremost English portraitists of the eighteenth century. The eldest sister, Laura, seated at center, winds a card with silk thread from a skein held by her sister Maria, at left, while Horatia, the youngest, embroiders netting stretched in a tambour frame. An admirer (like Walpole) of the ancient past, Reynolds endows his sitters with a classical elegance emphasized by their pale muslin gowns and columned enclosure.