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Arabella Fermor

Oil on canvas, by an unknown artist - about 1705

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Arabella Fermor by an unknown artist, about 1705

Arabella (1696-1737) is portrayed as a young girl in an apparently naive way. The small scale of the painting suggests that it may have been painted by an itinerant painter, perhaps one of the many Flemish artists who were drawn to England at this time. Whilst charming, the treatment of the subject is technically uneven. The girl is rather ill-proportioned and her childlike gestures sit uncomfortably with her adult facial expression. Arabella stands on a raised platform, possibly part of a garden pavilion, complete with billowing curtain. She is wearing an open-fronted gown called a mantua, with a train and matching petticoat. She plucks the flowers from a plant (possibly jasmine) in a classical-style urn. Behind her a brooding sky barely lights the garden below. This is one of three portraits made of Arabella during her lifetime; the later portraits show a sophisticated and glamorous woman.

Arabella's family home was Tusmore House, which was noted in the seventeenth century for its formal gardens. It is probably these which are depicted in the background. As a young woman, Arabella was noted in London society for her great beauty, and in the fashion of the day she wore her long hair loose on her shoulders. She was courted by the young Lord Petre, who, much to her anger, cut off a lock of her hair. The subsequent rift between the two families was satirised by Alexander Pope in The Rape of the Lock (1712), in the hope of a reconciliation - Arabella was the model for the character Belinda in the poem - but this made matters worse. Arabella later married Francis Perkins of Ufton Court in Berkshire, who was 20 years her senior.

Museum object number REDMG : 1981.23.1

width 250 mm, height 295 mm

See related topic: Early portraits: highlights