Miss Anne Bingham was one of the many aristocratic ladies whose portraits Reynolds painted, and one of the most interesting of this class of sitters. Her vivacious face looking into ours wins us at once, and we should be glad to know more of the charming original.

Anne Bingham was the youngest daughter of Sir Charles Bingham, who in 1776 was created Baron Lucan. Her mother, Lady Lucan, was a remarkably talented woman, trying her hand with success at modelling, painting, and poetry. She was ambitious to be an intellectual leader, and like several other ladies of the time entertained after the fashion of the French salons, inviting people of wit and learning to meet in her drawing-room for discussion. Her artistic work was really remarkable. Encouraged by the advice and help of Horace Walpole, she became a skilful copyist, and it is said imitated the works of some earlier painters with a genius that fairly depreciated the originals!

It was thus in exceptionally artistic and intellectual surroundings that Anne grew out of girlhood. Her oldest sister, Lavinia, who afterwards became Countess Spencer, inherited the mother's artistic tastes, and was likewise a favorite with Horace Walpole.

The two daughters were both charming in appearance, and there was a certain sisterly resemblance between them. If Lavinia's eyes were a bit more sparkling, judged by the portraits, Anne's mouth was smaller and more daintily modelled. As a frequent guest in their mother's drawing-room, Sir Joshua must have known both the young ladies. Of the elder he painted several portraits; of the younger, but this one, executed in 1786.

It was a natural and appropriate idea that Miss Anne's portrait should be made in a style similar to one of her sister, as a companion picture. Both were represented in half-length figure, wearing white kerchiefs and broad-brimmed hats.

Those must have been pleasant sittings which gave the veteran portrait painter Miss Anne for a subject.[17] Plainly there was a perfect sympathy between sitter and painter. The smile the lady turns towards the easel is as naïve as that of Miss Bowles herself. She watches his clever work with an artist's delight, and with the simple spirit of a child.

[17] When her father was created an earl in 1795, she became Lady Anne.

Nothing could be more distasteful to such a character than the affected pose of a woman of fashion. She has dropped into a chair with a careless grace all her own, and tells the painter she is ready. He takes up his brush, and lo, the very essence of her smile is transferred to his canvas.


We praise the delicate rendering of the gauzy kerchief veiling her neck, but it is far less wonderful than the delicate interpretation of her expression. The fine sensitiveness of her nature, her lively fancy and sense of humor, her playfulness, her coquetry, her impulsiveness, her volatile temperament—all this we read in the shining eyes and the smiling mouth, though no one can say how they were made to tell so much. The signs of her birth and breeding are in every line, yet she is something of a Bohemian too. There is a delightful sense of camaraderie in her smile.

There is a certain portrait by Leonardo da Vinci known as the Mona Lisa, and famous for its baffling smile. There is a tantalizing quality about it which makes one forever wonder what the lady is thinking about and why she is smiling. Nothing could be more in contrast than this smile of Miss Bingham. There is no mystery in it, but rather it takes us into her confidence in the most winning way.

The costume interests us not only as a reminder of bygone fashions, but for its picturesqueness. The bodice is ornamented only by the big buttons by which it is laced. A narrow belt finishes it at the waist, with a small buckle in front.

The hair is frizzed in puffy masses about the face, escaping in a few curls which fall over the shoulders. This was evidently the favorite coiffure in the year 1786, as the portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire with her Child, painted in the same year, shows precisely the same style. Both ladies also wear low-cut bodices with kerchiefs arranged in the same manner. The finishing touch of Miss Bingham's costume is the big straw hat worn aslant on the back of the head.

It has been a favorite device of great portrait painters to dress their sitters in all sorts of fanciful headwear. Rembrandt's portraits show an endless variety of caps, turbans, and hats. Rubens was fond of painting broad-brimmed hats shading the face, one of his celebrated pictures being a study of this kind called Le Chapeau de Paille (The Straw Hat).

Now Reynolds was to some extent an imitator of these two men, and it may be he learned something from their pictures about hats. However that may be, we see how the hat here proves very effective in bringing the head into harmonious relation with the whole composition. The brim describes a diagonal line parallel with the line made by the kerchief over the left shoulder. The kerchief on the right shoulder falls in a line parallel with the left arm.

A composition based on short diagonal lines like these is as different as possible in character from one of long flowing curves like Hope. Each one is appropriate to its own subject.