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This print by Valentine Green, after Reynolds's original painting – which was exhibited at the 1781 Royal Academy exhibition – depicts the threearistocratic, attractive and stylish Waldegrave sisters, captured in a charming tableau. From left to right of the group we encounterLady Charlotte Maria (1761-1808), Lady Elizabeth Laura (1760-1816), and, poised prettily over her delicate lacework, Lady Anne Horatia (1762-1801). Interestingly, all three sisters were single at the time of the painting's commission by their uncle, Horace Walpole – but by 1786 they had all married.Thus the image worksto highlight and publicise the sisters' beauty, desirability and eligibility – both as individuals, and collectively.

The trio of siblings embody contemporary style – all dressed identically in elaborate, pleated, white muslin dresses – 'the fashionable textile of the decade', according to Aileen Ribiero. The chaste and virginal connotations of the white colour of their gowns would not have been lost on the contemporary audience – and indeed future suitors – symbolising their chastity and purity; a notion that is reinforced by the iconography of the table's locked drawer. This close adherence to contemporary fashion on Reynolds's part is striking, as he often clothed his female sitters in pseudo-classical dress in order to transcend current vogues and offer them a timeless look. However, a sense of timelessness and classicality is evoked by the presence of the two fluted stonecolumns behind the girls' heads. Moreover, their physical beauty, shared activity and similar appearance allude to the imagery of the Three Graces.

Complementing their pale drapery, the three women wear perfectly coiffed and powdered hairstyles – with curls piled high and held in place by white ribbons.The similarities between the sisters are emphasised by their matching clothing, hairstyles and make-up, as well as the fact that they are all engaged in embroidery – a conventional, feminine, indoor activity that would further endorse their suitability as accomplished, domestic and refined wives. The thick velvet curtain which hangs down behind the trio throws the three women's figures into silhouette and adds an element of drama and theatricality to the image – as if it has been drawn back to present the spectator with a privileged glimpse into their private lives.Neither Lady Laura nor Lady Horatia directly addresses the viewer, and instead they seem to be pleasantly preoccupied with the task at hand. However, it is interesting to notice that the eldest sister, Lady Maria, has her face turned more directly to the viewer, as if looking for something or someone to her right…possibly a husband?

By Jessica Thomas