Where? Gallery 13 of the Legion of Honor Museum
Commissioned by? George Townshend, the husband of Anne.
What do you see? A full-length portrait of the 27-year old Anne Townshend. She wears a classic, long pinkish gown with a white undergarment and a fashionable Turkish cloth wrapped around her middle. Her huge hair – a trendy hairstyle during this period – is covered by a veil. The white and red satin cloak trimmed with ermine behind her indicates that she is well-off. She stands in front of a dark landscape. The sky is luminous which is the result of the setting sun which we cannot see.
Anne has her right hand against her cheek and casually leans with her right elbow on a stone pedestal which shows a carving of the mythological story of the judgment of Paris.
Backstory: The portrait of Anne, Viscountess Townshend is a pendant to Joshua Reynolds’ George Townshend, 4th Viscount Townshend in the Art Gallery of Ontario. Both paintings were commissioned by George Townshend, who was already familiar with the work of Reynolds through some earlier commissions. Among them were some portraits of his military comrades.
Who is Anne? Anne Montgomery (1752-1819) was the daughter of a rich and innovative farmer. She grew up with her sisters in Ireland, and Joshua Reynolds already depicted Anne and her two sisters in 1773 in the Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen in Tate Britain. During the same year, when she was 21 years old, she became the second wife of George Townshend (1724-1807) who was a very successful politician and soldier. They got six children together.
Who is Reynolds? Joshua Reynolds was born in 1723 in Plympton, in the Southeast of England, and died in 1792 in London. He was a very successful portrait painter. Reynolds painted according to the Grand Style, which he described as a style in which the subjects were not painted realistically but were rather poeticized. He believed that a portrait should be an idealized and generalized representation of the sitter.
Reynolds was one of the founders of the Royal Academy of Arts and served as its first president. As the president of the Royal Academy, he gave a series of discourses on art which have been a very valuable source of information about art history. One example of Reynolds’ work is Lady Caroline Howard in the National Gallery of Art. Another example is Captain George K. H. Coussmaker in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Fun fact: According to the original mythological story, Paris should give the golden apple to the most beautiful woman present at the wedding of Peleus and Thetis (the parents of Achilles). Three goddesses thought that they deserved the golden apple: Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera. The king of the gods, Zeus, did not want to make the judgment himself and tasked Paris with making a choice between the three goddesses.
In the carving in this painting by Reynolds, instead, only two goddesses are included. Paris ignores both goddesses to give the apple to Anne instead, whereas in the mythological story Aphrodite received the apple.
Interested in a copy for yourself? Poster
Written by Eelco Kappe