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‘O Rosalind! these trees shall be my books,
And in their barks my thoughts I’ll character,
That every eye, which in this forest looks,
Shall see thy virtue witness’d everywhere.
Run, run, Orlando: carve on every tree
The fair, the chaste, and unexpressive she.’  

(As You Like It by William Shakespeare, Act III, Scene II)

Here stands Mrs Joanna Lloyd, carving the name of her first husband and greatest love, Mr Richard Bennett Lloyd, onto a tree. Joanna was the third daughter and co-heiress, with her four sisters, of John Leigh of Northcourt House, Isle of Wight. In 1775 she married Richard Bennett Lloyd of the Foot Guards. Speculation surrounds the exact date of Reynolds’s portrait, but it was presumably painted after the couple’s engagement, or even their wedding – and was first exhibited at the 1776 Royal Academy exhibition. Reynolds seems to have drawn upon a variety of literary and pictorial sources and motifs for this portrait – including Shakespeare’s 1623 play As You Like It, in which lovesick young men carve their true love’s name onto trees.

Set in a peaceful woodland glade, the viewer is drawn into this intimate world of nature and tranquil serenity, with the trickling stream and dappled green trees behind – an idyllic, pastoral backdrop, which is far from an unkempt wilderness. The sunlight pours through the gaps amongst the trees, bouncing off the silvery bark and highlighting the name of her beloved husband. Reynolds’s deployment of chiaroscuro is especially effective in this image. Mrs Lloyd’s delicate right hand radiates a bright white light, catching our attention as she carves ‘LLO’ onto the tree. Her face is also illuminated by this light; a striking contrast to her dark coloured and fashionably-styled hair. Our eyes trace the path of the light down her elegant neck towards her décolletage, which glows luminously, symbolising her beauty, femininity and grace. The lower half of her body is also bathed in a band of bright light, accentuating her womanly frame, and desirability – this portrait was commissioned by her husband.

She wears a white classical dress, with a silk sash round her waist, as her blue sandals emerge from beneath the drapery onto the undergrowth below. As her body is pictured in both light and shade, we get the sense that she is at one with nature. Her feminine figure emerges forwards, and yet at the same time she is drawn back into the shaded forestry behind. Is this portrait public or private? Her mannered pose and the dramatic chiaroscuro suggests this is a staged performance, presented for an appreciative audience – but the fact that this isolated and intimate scene is set in what is likely to have been her country estate, suggests otherwise. Her gaze is turned away from the viewer, as she is completely absorbed in thought. This is an image of contemplation, as she thinks of her one true love – her beloved Richard Bennett Lloyd.

By Isabella Boorman