Emma Hart, later Lady Hamilton (circa 1761-1815)
A three-quarter-length portrait to right, seated on a rock at the entrance to a cavern. She wears an ivory muslin dress with a silk shawl tied around her shoulders, a blue green sash around her waist and a wide-brimmed straw hat. Her hands in her lap are joined together and her head is tilted to one side in a gesture of contemplation. The sea is loosely sketched on the right in the background, with the sails of a ship in the distance. The loosely painted portrait gives the appearance of a rapid sketch from life. In the 19th century it became known as 'Lady Hamilton as Ariadne' since it was thought to show Emma posing as this daughter of King Minos of Crete, who helped Theseus to escape from the Minotaur's labyrinth only to be abandoned by him on the island of Naxos. It has more recently been argued that, since Romney probably finished it after Emma left England in 1786, it may rather be a reflection of his own complex feelings for her effective 'banishment' abroad. He still held it at his death, when it was probably the picture listed by one of his assistants as 'Absence', and it was bought in at his studio sale for retention by his son and biographer, John Romney. Emma did, however, pose for several artists as Ariadne, including Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun.
- Image reference: BHC2736
- National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
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