Full-length portraiture flourished in Britain during the second half of the
18th century. Patrons were increasingly willing to spend money on paintings by British artists, as well as during the Grand Tours they undertook abroad. And portraitists were encouraged to represent their subjects in ambitious and original formats. Portraiture was included in an annual exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, but it had to hold its own with the narrative painting that was regarded as the artist’s highest calling.
Joshua Reynolds was adept at introducing references to antique sculpture,
and to the work of the greatest painters of the past, to add dignity and
authority to his images. Thomas Lawrence was similarly skilled, combining
precocious painting ability with a directness in characterisation that animates the best of his portraits. Both Lawrence and Johann Zoffany were able to adapt the grandeur and formality of portrait conventions to present their female sitters with particular sympathy.