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Charlotte (Grenville), Lady Williams-Wynn (1754-1830) and her Children

REYNOLDS, Sir Joshua (1723 - 1792)

Charlotte (Grenville), Lady Williams-Wynn (1754-1830) and her Children

Media: oil on canvas

Size: 159.4 x 215.7 cm

Acquired: 1998; Purchase; with assistance of National Art Collections Fund / National Heritage Lottery Fund

Accession Number: NMW A 12964

Collection: The Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn Collection

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Charlotte Grenville, wife of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, and her children depicts the second wife of Sir Watkin Williams-Wynn, whom he married in December 1771. She had six surviving children and is here presumably accompanied by her three eldest: Watkin (b. 1772), Fanny (b. 1773) and Charles (b. 1775). The apparent age of the children suggests that the portrait was painted in around 1778.

Charlotte Grenville (1754-1830) was a Grenville of Stowe, and a member of one of the great governing families of 18th century Britain. She was the eldest daughter of the Rt Hon George Grenville (1712-70), who had been Prime Minister in 1763-5. Following his death, her guardian was her uncle, 2nd Earl Temple. Another uncle, by marriage, was William Pitt the Elder.

This portrait remained with the artist until after Sir Watkin's death in July 1789. A newspaper of 19 September 1789 reported: 'Sir Joshua's beautiful portraits of Lady W.W. Wynne and Lady Betty Delme and children, with some other charming heads, which for many years have been lodged in his infirmary, are now brought out to see the light; and by the help of fresh varnish and a few varying touches from his pencil, again claim our notice and heartfelt applause'.

The format of this portrait and Lady Charlotte's attitude, relative to her children, recall early sixteenth century Venetian representations of The Rest on the Flight with St John the Baptist. The portrait also has a warmth and richness of colour reminiscent of the Venetian High Renaissance paintings which Reynolds so much admired. Lady Charlotte's costume, with a plunging v-shaped neckline and an ermine-lined over-gown is in the Turkish fashion popularised during the early eighteenth century by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and the engravings of Turkish ladies in Ferriol's Recueil de cent estampes (1714); an effect intensified by the large cushion and the oriental carpet.

Lady Charlotte's pose, lying down and reading, derives from the pastel portraits of ladies in Turkish dress by Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702-89), who was in England in 1772-6 and exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1773-4. This portrait may have been intended to surpass the opulence of the pastels of Liotard, who was one of Reynolds' principal competitors.

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