Sir Joshua Reynolds
Lady Sarah Bunbury Sacrificing to the Graces
Oil on canvas
95 1/2 x 59 3/4 in. (242.6 x 151.5 cm)
Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Kimball Collection, 1922.4468
Sir Joshua Reynolds, a leading British painter of the 18th century and a founder (and first president) of the British Royal Academy of Arts, was a highly successful portrait painter, though he aspired to be a painter of more elevated historical subjects. Reynolds wrote extensively in support of the revival of Classical and Renaissance themes and ideals in art, setting the stage for the Neoclassical movement of the late 18th century.
In Lady Sarah Bunbury Sacrificing to the Graces and in other elegant full-length portraits, Reynolds found a way to combine portraiture and history painting. He incorporated Classical mythology into his portrayal of Lady Sarah Bunbury, who is cast as a citizen of the ancient world. Lady Sarah was a celebrated English beauty whose husband, Sir Charles Bunbury, commissioned Reynolds’s portrait shortly after their marriage. So stunning was Lady Sarah that she even attracted the attention of King George III. In the center of the composition she stands, dressed in a loose, vaguely classical robe of pale pink, amidst classically inspired architecture. She pours an offering into a smoking tripod before a sculpture of the Three Graces who look down at her with open arms. One of the Graces offers Lady Sarah a wreath, a symbol of friendship and trust. It appears as if the Graces have miraculously come to life and invite her to become a fourth member of their group. Lady Sarah looks up toward the women, and her pose echoes the central Grace’s gesture, suggesting that she is ready to join them.
French, 1729–c. 1800
The Eruption of Vesuvius
Oil on canvas
46 x 95 5/8 in. (116.8 x 242.9 cm)
Inscribed bottom left: Vue de l'Eruption / du mont Vesuve du 14 / may 1771 peinte Sur le / lieu par le Che Volaire.
Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester Collection, 1978.426
Mount Vesuvius is depicted by Volaire in the midst of another eruption in 1771. The volcano had first erupted in A.D. 79 and had covered the ancient cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in southern Italy. Excavation of the cities buried by this eruption began in 1748 and helped launch a popular mania for the ancient world, which in turn contributed to the development of Neoclassicism. In The Eruption of Vesuvius, Volaire contrasted the vagaries of nature represented by the eruption of fire and smoke with the still, cool body of water that reflects the serene night sky. By emphasizing the overpowering force of nature in the explosive volcano that dwarfs the tiny figures in the foreground, Volaire anticipated a strong theme of the Romantic movement, which would dominate European culture in the early 19th century.