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Jane Fleming, later Countess of Harrington
Date: ca.1778-1779
Maker: Joshua Reynolds , British, 1723-1792
Sitter:Sitter: Jane Fleming, later Countess of Harrington , British, 1755 - 1824
Dimensions: 94 1/4 x 58 1/16 in. (239.4 x 147.5 cm.)
Medium: oil on canvas
Credit Line: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens
Object Number: 13.3
Label Text: Jane Fleming was born in 1755, the eldest of five children of Sir John Fleming (c. 1701-63), 1st Bart., of Brompton Park, Middlesex, and his wife Jane Colman (1732-1813), a niece of Edward, 8th Duke of Somerset. John Fleming's death in 1763 brought Jane (as co-heir with her sisters) a staggering fortune of £100,000. On March 29, 1770, when she was about fifteen, her mother married Edwin Lascelles (1713-95), a wealthy West Indian sugar grower, who was created 1st Baron Harewood in 1790. At the age of twenty-three, Jane became engaged to a glamorous war hero, Charles Stanhope, Viscount Petersham (1753-1829), a lieutenant colonel in the 3rd Foot Guards. He had been in America serving as General Burgoyne's aide-de-camp since February 1776, and returned to England in late December 1777 to find himself the idol of the female population. Viscount Petersham's father, the 2nd Earl of Harrington was deeply in debt, however, and the families became embroiled in protracted legal negotiations. In late October 1778 it was speculated that the match had been called off altogether, but the impasse was evidently cleared by Viscount Petersham's accession as 3rd Earl of Harrington on the death of his father, April 1, 1779. On May 23, 1779 he and Jane Fleming were married at St. Marylebone, London. The new Countess of Harrington immediately garnered praise for her generosity in settling her husband's debts and funding the re-purchase of Stable Yard House in St. James's, London. Her money also enabled Lord Harrington to raise an infantry regiment, which she accompanied to Jamaica in 1780. On their return to England the following year, Lord Harrington was appointed aide-de-camp to the king, and Lady Harrington became prominent in fashionable circles. She was singled out (along with Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire) as one of "the best dressed ladies" at an all-night party hosted by the duchess in September 1782. Like many of their set, Lady Harrington developed a fondness for gambling, and in 1787 she contributed funds to establish a faro bank in partnership with the duchess's sister, Lady Duncannon. In a social milieu notorious for lax morality, however, Lady Harrington was considered a paragon of virtue, "blessed with domestic happiness, a lovely progeny [six sons and two daughters], and every endearment that can make life desirable." An artist of some skill, Lady Harrington may have taken lessons from John Glover, whose practice as an art instructor she helped to establish in the early 1790s. She was a great favorite of Queen Charlotte and served as her Lady of the Bedchamber. The Harringtons' fashionability of dress and behavior persisted into late life. One contemporary was struck by "their sempiternal occupation of tea-drinking," claiming that "neither in Nankin, Pekin, nor Canton was the teapot more assiduously and constantly replenished" than at Stable Yard House. The Countess of Harrington died at St. James's Palace on February 3, 1824, and was buried in Westminster Abbey nine days later. Her husband died on September 15, 1829 at Brighton and was buried at his country house, Elvaston, county Derby. Joshua Reynolds was well acquainted with Jane Fleming and her family by the time she sat for this portrait in 1778. He had painted her mother a few years after her marriage in 1752. Two decades later, he painted a pair of full-length portraits of Jane's sister, Seymour Dorothy (b.1758), and her husband, Sir Richard Worsley, Bart. (1751-1805), soon after their marriage in September 1775. Slightly earlier, Reynolds had painted a full-length portrait of Jane herself, exhibited at the Royal Academy in May 1775 and paid for that November. It represents her in a vaguely classical mode, gliding through a sylvan landscape with a floral wreath extended in her left hand. The gestural conceit recalls the ancient Roman sculpture Flora Farnese, in which the goddess bears flowers in one hand, while lifting her trailing drapery with the other (Museo Nazionale, Naples). In the present painting, executed three or four years later, Reynolds again borrowed ideas from classical sculpture. He modeled the overall pose on the Apollo Belvedere, a prototype he had employed before, most famously in his portrait Commodore Augustus Keppel of c.1752-53 (National Maritime Museum, London). As in that painting, the palpable allusion to classical sculpture in Jane Fleming's portrait endows her with an aura of cultural authority. Reynolds's purpose was not to call attention to specific classical prototypes, however, but rather to invest his sitter with the same ideal dignity and grace that ancient artists had brought to the human figure. Moreover, by emulating the generalized drapery of classical sculpture, rather than the ephemeral fashions of his own day, Reynolds sought to ensure that his image retained an enduring currency. Fleming's apparel is based on the informal, cross-over construction of an eighteenth-century wrapping gown, but the influence of classical sculpture is clear in the rhythmic swags of fabric that fall in concentric curves from her raised right arm, and in the way the drapery defines the forms of her lower anatomy. The Greek key pattern that ornaments the hem of her discarded mantle provides a further reference to classical style. An inveterate theater-goer, Reynolds instinctively placed Fleming's outstretched hand and arm in the conventional stage gesture that eighteenth-century actors assumed to signal that they were about to speak. Prior to uttering the first word, the right arm would be raised out from the body and the palm of the hand turned up, with the thumb extended and the fingers slightly splayed. Acting treatises urged performers to take particular care in positioning the fingers, as they were crucial in creating an impression of grace and elegance. Reynolds, too, devoted special care to this aspect of the painting, subtly re-working the fingers and thumb, as described in the Technical Notes. The openness of the gesture provides a foil to the aloof, rather haughty impression created by Fleming's averted gaze. The contrast adds complexity to Reynolds's characterization of his sitter. Despite his engagement in the art of the past, Reynolds deferred to the taste of his time in the matter of hairstyle. He represented Jane Fleming's hair at the great height that was then in vogue, ornamented by the ostrich feathers that the Duchess of Devonshire had recently made popular. He has allowed several strands of hair to blow free from the stiffly pomaded coiffure, thereby enlivening the stately figure with a hint of vitality and informality. Additionally, by manifesting the effects of wind, the flying locks of hair help to unify Fleming with the stormy clouds of the backdrop, and imbuing her with something of the drama of the sky. It is instructive to compare Reynolds's majestic characterization of Jane Fleming in 1778 with his demure conception of her in 1775. The marked differences between the two portraits attest not only to the increasingly ambitious tone of Reynolds's portraiture, but also to the transformation of his sitter's circumstances. By 1778, Fleming had become an extremely wealthy woman in her own right, and was engaged to one of the most desirable bachelors in England, the future 3rd Earl of Harrington. Although she sat for this portrait during the suspenseful months when foundering prenuptial negotiations nearly aborted the match, her air of icy self-confidence betrays no sign of uncertainty. The dainty wreath-bearing pose of her earlier portrait is replaced here by the commanding sweep of her right arm, which gains emphasis from the broad swags of her sleeve. In place of the modest train of fabric in her previous portrait, she now trails a superabundance of cloth that serves no purpose but to convey an air of luxury. Reynolds enhanced the impression of opulence through architectural embellishments; the balustrade, sculpted plinth, and neo-classical urn suggest a stately house surrounded by extensive grounds, rather than the virginal wilderness in which his subject had previously strolled. Physical deterioration of the paint materials over the last two centuries has diminished the appearance of unity that the portrait must originally have presented. The impression of disjunction between the sitter and her surroundings results in large part from the yellowed varnish that covers much of the painting. In the landscape backdrop, it produces a flattening effect and falsifies the cool tonalities intended by Reynolds. In the architectural balustrade and urn, it masks the range of tones that once would have given those elements a more substantial, three-dimensional appearance. The varnish also alters the color of the sitter's drapery, which is further distorted by faded red pigments. What now appears as a pastel salmon-pink was probably first a fuller-bodied crimson. As the portrait originally appeared--with a more convincing sense of spatial relationships and of atmosphere--Jane Fleming's sculptural form, dramatic gesture, and flowing drapery would have combined to produce a stunning effect. In light of the financial difficulties of the Harrington family, there can be little doubt that this portrait was commissioned by Jane Fleming's mother, Lady Fleming. Although her second husband, Edwin Lascelles, commissioned a number of family portraits (including some by Reynolds) to fill Harewood House--the splendid Palladian residence that he erected in Yorkshire between 1759 and 1771--he stipulated in his will that these and other valuables should "continue & remain there to be used & Heir Looms" by succeeding occupants. Lascelles's will further specified that his widow was to retain all the "Pictures and furniture which belonged to her before our marriage, or which she has since purchased or acquired, in which ever of my houses the same may be." As the present portrait eventually passed to the sitter and her husband, the 3rd Earl of Harrington, it was evidently never considered part of Lascelles's dynastic portraiture display at Harewood. In addition to commissoning this painting, Lady Fleming must also have commissioned her own portrait by Reynolds, painted at the same time as her daughter's, in 1778-79. That work, too, entered Lady Harrington's possession, rather than remaining at Harewood. Lady Fleming transferred a number of paintings and other works of art to her daughter by bequest, but the present portrait seems to have been a prior gift. By the time Lady Fleming's will was proved on May 14, 1813, her daughter already possessed the painting, having loaned it to the British Institution exhibition sometime prior to May 10, 1813. The present portrait and that of Lady Fleming were so closely associated while they hung together at the Harringtons' family seat, Elvaston Castle, Derbyshire, that the identities of the sitters became confused. The mix-up was entrenched by erroneous inscriptions added soon after Lady Harrington's death in 1823. The correct identifications were restored by Duveen Bros. following their acquisition of the portraits in July 1912. Yet for selling purposes, Jane Fleming's identity mattered less than her appearance. As in other instances, Joseph Duveen focused on the decorative aspects of the picture ("a beautiful woman in a pink dress, walking in a garden"), without alluding to the sitter's aristocratic credentials. Firing off a letter to Arabella Huntington on July 8, 1912, he wrote: "I have just returned from London, having made an offer in a country house for one of the finest Sir Joshuas I really have ever seen--something extraordinary!" Duveen offered to send her a photograph or show her the painting itself, but his real target was her nephew, Henry E. Huntington, who ultimately purchased the painting, along with Reynolds's portrait of Lady Fleming, in April 1913. These were among Huntington's earliest and most important acquisitions of British art and provided the cornerstones of his collection of grand-manner full-lengths. Today, Reynolds's magisterial portrait of Jane Fleming is justifiably considered one of his most striking achievements in female portraiture.