National Museum Wales acquires rare Richard Wilson portrait

The 18th-century painting is a significant addition to the museum’s collection of works by Wilson, and strengthens the presence of women in its displays.

With support from Art Fund, National Museum Wales has acquired the c1750 painting Portrait of a Lady (Miss Mary Jenkins?), which is now on display at National Museum Cardiff.

Thought to be an image of Miss Mary Jenkins, whose family owned Priston Manor in Somerset, the work joins only one other female portrait by Wilson in National Museum Wales’ collection. It offers insight into Wilson’s early career, when he first trained in London as a society portrait painter, before later becoming best known for his landscapes.

The acquisition has also enabled further research, which is currently trying to establish whether this may in fact be a marriage portrait, rather than one of a pair of siblings (Wilson also painted Jenkins’ sister, Elizabeth, in the same year). The woman’s hand clasps a sprig of white blossom, which may be choisya (orange blossom), sometimes used to symbolise an eternal bond.

'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,' said Andrew Renton, keeper of art at National Museum Wales.

'This portrait not only strengthens the female presence in our 18th-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!'

'Richard Wilson is of course one of Wales’ most celebrated landscape painters but his portraits are particularly rare,' said Stephen Deuchar, director of Art Fund. '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.'

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