My Favourite Painting: Bruce Oldfield

'...the twice-married Joanna Lloyd has all the racy qualities of an “It” girl'

Mrs Richard Bennett Lloyd, 1775, 93in by 571/2in, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–92), private collection. Bridgeman Images.

Bruce Oldfield says:
‘I have always been intrigued by Mrs Lloyd. Compared with her contemporaries painted by Reynolds–the Ladies Waldegrave and Mary, Duchess of Richmond, for example, fine upstanding examples of the upper echelons of 18th-century British society–the twice-married Joanna Lloyd has all the racy qualities of an “It” girl. The extravagance and height of her hairdo, the voluptuousness of her dress, the delicate sandals, the luminosity of her skin and the redness of her lips all suggest that she was up to no good in that sylvan glade. Brava!’

Bruce Oldfield is a fashion designer. His two boutiques are on London’s Beauchamp Place.

Art critic John McEwen comments:
‘The portrait marks the marriage of Joanna Leigh, third daughter and co-heiress with her four sisters of Sir John Leigh of Northcourt House, Isle of Wight, to Richard Bennett Lloyd of the Foot Guards. It is his name she writes on the tree. The motif of a lady carving her true love’s name on a tree derives from Italian Baroque art, where it usually illustrates the story of Angelica and Medoro in Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando Furioso.

A posthumous studio sale of Reynolds’s work lists a painting of Angelica and Medoro, but a picture by Francesco ‘Imperiali’ Fernandi (1679–1740), which was in a 1754 London sale, seems a more likely inspiration. It illustrated a scene from a Tasso poem, Erminia carving her truelove’s name. In As You Like It, Orlando says he will ‘carve on every tree/The fair, the chaste, and unexpressive she’. Following its successful revival at Drury Lane in 1740, the play became one of Shakespeare’s most popular with 18th-century audiences.

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Reynolds paints Mrs Lloyd in a fanciful ‘Classical’ gown, described in the Morning Post as ‘a loose fancy vest’, and, continuing the Classical theme, the skimpiest of sandals, amusingly impractical for outdoor wear. Her spectacularly piled hair is not fanciful, but in the latest fashion. As Samuel Johnson, a close friend of Reynolds, wrote the year the portrait was unveiled in the Royal Academy’s summer exhibition: ‘The Ladies’ heads, without stretching an inch, were a yard high reckoning from their chin, or their lowermost hair behind.’

This article was first published in Country Life, August 24, 2011