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Mrs Hale as 'Euphrosyne'(originally painted 1762-64) is a classic example of the allegorical portrayal of women in Reynolds's portraiture. In this engagement portrait, the youthful Mrs John Hale (whose maiden name was Mary Chaloner) is represented as Euphrosyne – one of the Three Graces, personifying mirth –in a joyful, exuberant, musical scene, with dancing children surrounding her. Such elements areextremely reminiscent of a Bacchanalian setting, and a further trio of frolicking figures in the pastoral landscape behind emphasises this evocation.

In her youthful bliss, the innocent Miss Chaloner seems to actively invite the viewer into her scene – one hand reaching out enticingly, as if there to be held in a dance, her foot stepping delicately forward, toes pointed, as if tentatively tempting us to join her. This idea is accentuated by the enduringreputation of Euphrosyne in art; often elegantly depicted joined by men in scenes of dancing and general gaiety – and this association is further highlighted by the fact that Watson's mezzotint is inscribed 'L'Allegro', alluding to Milton's celebrated poem. With this in mind, it is fair to suggest that in her role as Euphrosyne, Miss Chaloner is inviting her future husband to step into the picture plane, take her extended left hand, and join her in her dance.

Alternatively, the image could be interpreted as her starting to distinguishherself from Miss Chaloner, ready to become Mrs Hale, as she prepares to step over the threshold of marriage – the upward twist of her left hand towards the merry music-making behind her seems to indicate a desire to no longer be a part of the situation, as if she wishes to end the scene. This attempt to remove, or distance herself from the childhood frivolities which encircle her seems evident in her slight separation from the other dancers and musicians. She steps forwards lightly towards the viewer, her dark hair whipping fervently around her face, away from her previous companions and the cloudy, murky sky and instead seems to step forward into a patch of light, embracing the thought of married life. Indeed, the left side of her figure and face is cast into deep chiaroscuro, while the right side, including her dainty little foot, is illuminated – perhaps reflecting the split sides of her identity at this significant time in her life.Despite this perception that Mrs Hale is moving on to an idyllic future, she seems to accept both aspects gracefully. Whilst she embraces her future, Mrs Hale appears to calmly and steadily move on from her childhood past – regretting nothing.

By Philippa Grafton