Sir Joshua Reynolds
Lady Sarah Bunbury Sacrificing to the Graces, 1763–65
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
Lady Sarah Bunbury was famous for being the society beauty who attracted the attention of the future king George III when she was only fifteen. George was persuaded to marry a German princess instead of her, and a year after the royal marriage, Lady Sarah wed Sir Charles Bunbury in a match that did not survive for long. In this portrait, Sir Joshua Reynolds—the first president of the Royal Academy and a champion of the importance of classical artistic models—conferred upon her a flattering honorary citizenship in the ancient world. Dressed in a loose, vaguely Roman costume and surrounded by the art and artifacts of antiquity, Lady Sarah is cast as a devotee of the Three Graces, symbols of generosity and the mythical companions of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty. Lady Sarah pours a libation into a smoking tripod, and one of the Graces seems to offer her a wreath, as if inviting the aristocratic beauty to join their number. As an academician, Reynolds valued historical subjects, but as a practicing painter, he made his living largely through portraiture. In this and other grand portraits, he found a way of combining the requirements of his patrons with the prestige of the classical tradition.
— Entry, Essential Guide, 2009, p. 201.