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Penelope (Pitt), Viscountess Ligonier

Date: 1770
94 1/2 x 61 3/4 in. (240 x 156.8 cm.)
Medium: oil on canvas
Credit Line: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Object Number: 11.29
Label Text:Artistic tools – a drawing instrument called a porte-crayon, a portfolio, sheets of paper, and plaster casts stacked on the chair – surround Lady Ligonier. Portraits of women in the guise of artists were frequently commissioned in the 18th century, when skill in draftsmanship was considered a desirable sign of refinement. In this portrait, however, Gainsborough pushed the mode to the limits of feminine propriety. He has represented Lady Ligonier in a pose of great self-confidence and force that was quite exceptional – portraying her with more swagger than her husband, whose companion portrait hangs nearby. Leaning on a plinth and thrusting her hip outward, she raises her left hand to the side of her head and points directly to her temple as if to call attention to her intelligence.