A spectacular and delightful double-portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, depicting two well-to-do and fashionable young people, has been allocated to the Barber under the Government’s AIL (Acceptance in Lieu of Inheritance Tax) scheme.
This fascinating large oil painting, ‘Maria Marow Gideon (1767-1834) and her Brother, William (1775-1805)’, is only the second work allocated to the collection since the scheme’s inception – and is a welcome addition to the gallery in its 80th anniversary year.
Painted between 1786 and 1788, the subjects are the children of Sir Samson Gideon, later Baron Eardley of Spalding, whose own father was an immensely wealthy Jewish financier with an important collection of paintings at his Kent home. The picture, purchased by Sir Samson from the artist in 1787 for £300, was completed and displayed at the Royal Academy the following year.
Exemplifying Reynolds’s late style at its best, it is as much about high fashion as personality, with the subjects sporting the very latest styles in everything from Maria’s beaver hat with ostrich feathers to William’s jockey boots. Reynolds emphasises the importance of the two charming figures, and the visual appeal of their sumptuous costume, by placing them right at the front of the picture-plane and minimising the size and relative importance of the painting’s landscape background.
While Maria, born in 1767, married an aristocrat and lived to the age of 66, William, born in 1775, rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in the Army – but died, unmarried and aged just 30 years old, in 1805. He is buried in the village of Berkswell, between Birmingham and Coventry.
The painting, which comes from a collection in Sussex and was accepted by the Government in lieu of some £3.3 million in Inheritance Tax, is only the second to have been allocated to the Barber under the AIL scheme, administered by Arts Council England. Renoir’s Young Woman Seated was allocated to the Barber in 1984. The new work is also the first major work to have been acquired for the collection since 2009.
Nicola Kalinsky, Director of the Barber Institute, said the painting was an impressive addition to the collection’s already considerable array of 18th-century portraits, and joins a small number of much-loved pictures depicting family subjects.
‘This stunning double-portrait demonstrates Reynolds’s supreme mastery of sympathetic human depiction, even at the very end of his long career,’ said Ms Kalinsky. ‘This brother and sister could not be more unlike each other and Reynolds captures their different characters with insight and subtlety – Maria holds herself stiffly, as if waiting for the painter’s glance to move on, whilst William, younger in years but not in confidence, poses easily, like an elegant man about town.
‘We are delighted and thrilled that such a complex yet endearing portrait has now found its permanent home at the Barber, and we are extremely grateful to the AIL panel and HM Government. I’m sure Lady Barber would have appreciated this great example of English portraiture, and this is a wonderful way to mark the 80th anniversary of her visionary foundation.’