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'Hail divinest Melancholy!' Here we see Lady Louisa Manners'contemplation of her dual identity as we stroll through the soothing solitude of her estate gardens. The indecipherable interplay between what is theatrical and what is introspected is paramount to Reynolds's depiction of the female role in eighteenth-century society. When comparing her portrait with that of her younger sister,Lady Jane Halliday(see entry 18) – a preconditioned pairing– the dialogue between the two, on the wall of the 1779 Royal Academyexhibition, isstrongly reminiscentof the transitionaldialogue between Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso. Lady Louisa'sgaze towards her joyful, vivacioussister is reciprocated, as both are portrayed in near-profile, and they appear to be two halves of the same whole, rather than two different and opposite female personas. Both contemplate their dual identitiesas they gaze at oneanother, suggesting that they could easily wander into each other's canvases and take on the other's role – an ambiguity that was shapedby the emergence of a celebrity culture, promoted byValentine Green's 'Beauties of the Present Age'.

A woman's transition from mirth to melancholy is allegorised here by the unusual depiction of a married mother in her mid-thirties,in a portrait commissioned by her brother, rather than that of a newly-engaged girl or young bride, commissioned by a fiancé.Lady Louisa is presented as morally capable of allegorising intellect and maturity. The base of the column on which she leans alludes to the exquisite sensibility and knowledge of antiquity that underpins hercontemplation – but it also worksto anchor her to her husband's fortune and status. More subtly however, the column can be seen as a plinth – or platform – on which she can flaunt her own public, independent life that the new celebrity culture encouraged.The pyramid-like composition of Lady Louisaand the pale Grecian robes of her dress elevate her further to the state of sculpture and thus she herself becomes a classical Muse that we might imagine others retiring to for contemplation. Now she has become the monument in her own right.

Majestically now a statue herself, Lady Louisa appropriates its classical sensibilities and transposes theminto the tranquillity ofthe pastoral English landscape.She emblemises the 'culture of sensibility' ofthe landed classes and is shown to be aware of the natural phenomenathat inspirethese 'grander' thoughts, as she wanders amidst them. The dappled light and shade especiallyallegorise the ambiguity of her role – with thelight evoking the prominence of the public, celebrity realm and the shade alluding to the subordinate and private realm of her domestic existence – to both of which, as a fashionable and dignified aristocratic lady, she must subscribe.Countering this theatrical adherence to these roles however, she conceals half of her face from us. Whether staged or genuine, this gestureis indecipherable,and thusironically, she projects to the viewer that she is concealing something.Her tantalising publication of her private introspection blurs her position between these two roles, and allows for infinite layers of role-play and meaning.

By Katarina Robinson