Reynolds 300: Portrait of Lady Ann Bonfoy

Reynolds 300: Portrait of Lady Ann Bonfoy

18 May 2023

This gorgeous portrait dating from the 1750s and depicting a woman in a green and pink dress is part of our ‘Port Eliot Collection’. The woman is Lady Ann Bonfoy (nee Eliot) - the eldest daughter of Richard Eliot (1694-1748) and his wife Harriot (sometimes written as Harriet) (1713-1769).

Plymouth acquired 23 portraits from the Trustees of the Port Eliot Estate in St Germans through the Acceptance in Lieu scheme in 2007. Although they’ve remained in situ at Port Eliot they’re officially part of the fine art collections at The Box. The core of the acquisition is a group of 14 works by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). They span the period from the start of his career in the 1740s up to the 1780s, and are an unusually good group of family portraits from this time.

Bonfoy (1729-1816) was said to be a beauty and stands with one hand on her hip as she stares into the distance. The background behind her features a landscape with trees and the sea. Reynolds adapted her ‘hand on hip pose’ from male portraits by famous Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641). We believe he must have been pleased with it. Records show that even though Ann wasn’t famous, this portrait was one of the earliest he had engraved as a mezzotint print.

Mezzotint is an engraving technique that features ‘soft gradations of tone and rich and velvety blacks’. It became popular in England during the 1700s for reproducing portrait paintings.

Ann's mother Harriot was the illegitimate but wealthy daughter of dancer Hester Booth (1681-1773) and politician James Craggs the Younger (1686-1721). Her father Richard represented St Germans and Liskeard as MP in a number of parliaments. He was one of Reynolds’ principal patrons. Reynolds was commissioned to paint the Eliot family and their relations many times and he remained on close terms with them throughout his life.

Anne became Lady Bonfoy when she married Naval Captain Hugh Bonfoy (c1720-1762) in November 1751. They had one daughter together. After he died in 1762, she married for a second time to Henry, Earl of Ely (1709-1783).

An interesting aspect of Ann’s life is that she was Lady of the Bedchamber to the daughters of King George III (1738-1820) – the famous ‘Mad King George’. He and Queen Charlotte had 15 children, including six daughters – Charlotte, Augusta, Elizabeth, Mary, Sophia and Amelia. The princesses were brought up in relative isolation and were described as ‘a parcel of old maids’.

As Lady of the Bedchamber, more commonly known as a lady-in-waiting, Anne would have been a personal attendant to them, helping them to dress and providing them with companionship and counsel.

Thanks to Jo Clarke, Marketing and Communications Officer