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Rare Richard Wilson portrait acquired by Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales has bought a significant eighteenth-century painting Portrait of a Lady (Miss Mary Jenkins?) by the ‘father of British landscape painting’, Richard Wilson, thanks to support from Art Fund. The museum already holds the largest collection of works by Richard Wilson in the UK, and this painting is a significant addition to the collection.

Painted around 1750, Portrait of a Lady (Miss Mary Jenkins?), dates to Wilson’s early career. He was first a society portrait painter, before leaving for Italy in 1751 where he would find his true vocation in landscape painting. Amgueddfa Cymru currently has only one female portrait by Richard Wilson – Portrait of a Lady: Maid of Honour – and comparatively few eighteenth-century portraits of women in general.

The painting is traditionally thought to be Miss Mary Jenkins (1731-1790), whose family owned Priston Manor, Somerset. Richard Wilson also painted her sister Elizabeth in the same year. Set in an interior space, the artist has used the light to illuminate her youthful features. The vented sleeves of her dress are in what is known as a ‘Van Dyck’ style, which was popular among eighteenth-century portraitists.

The black gown also accentuates the delicate colours and textures of the pink bows, white ermine collar, as well as the sitter’s pale complexion. Her hands rest on her lap in a relaxed gesture, one outstretched and another clasping a sprig of white blossom. These flowers may be Choisya (Orange Blossom) which was sometimes used to symbolise the eternal bond of marriage. Research is currently being undertaken to establish whether this may in fact be a marriage portrait, rather than one of a pair of sisters.

Andrew Renton, Keeper of Art, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales said:

“By making the acquisition of this portrait possible, the Art Fund has helped the National Museum enhance its status as a leading centre for enjoying and studying Richard Wilson’s work. We are hugely grateful for their generous support.

“This striking and intriguing Portrait of a Lady is a strong example of Wilson’s early practice, and further enriches Amgueddfa Cymru’s collection of works by the artist.

“This portrait not only strengthens the female presence in our eighteenth-century displays but it also enables us to undertake interesting further research – the identity of the sitter is speculative and we’d love to be sure who she really is!”

Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, said:

“Richard Wilson is of course one of Wales’s most celebrated landscape painters but his portraits are particularly rare. We're very pleased to support this acquisition for Amgueddfa Cymru - National Museum Wales, a leading centre for his work in all its range and depth.”

The oil on canvas is now on display in the Art galleries of National Museum Cardiff, where you can see other important examples of Richard Wilson’s work.

Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales operates seven national museums in Wales. These are the National Museum Cardiff, St Fagans: National History Museum, the National Roman Legion Museum Caerleon, Big Pit: the National Coal Museum Blaenafon, the National Wool Museum Dre-Fach Felindre, the National Slate Museum Llanberis, and the National Waterfront Museum Swansea. Entry to each museum is free thanks to the support of the Welsh Government.