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Hanging from a wall in the Wallace collection at Herford House in Manchester Square, The Strawberry Girl painting by Joshua Reynolds will certainly leave you mesmerised.
Described as charming by Horace Walpole, a renowned English art historian, this piece of art was Reynolds most accomplished and famous work at the time of its presentation at the Royal Academy (1773). It was arguably one of the most admired pictures of the eighteenth century which the painter himself expressed as "one of the half dozen original things which no man ever exceeded in his life of work".
The picture shows a girl staring directly at the viewer with childish eyes, looking isolated in front of a huge rock. Seemingly vulnerable, the girl is dressed in a pale dress with a hair partly covered in a turban as a cone-shaped basket hangs from the right arm. Although somewhat inconsistent with the contemporary illustration of a girl, the idea in the painting seems to have been Reynolds own creation. This is depicted in he has portrayed the subject from an urban setting to a rather extraordinary outfit such as the turban.
In the eighteenth century in London, strawberry girls were a familiar sight as the girls from underprivileged homes left into the streets to help their families earn a living by selling the fruits. After painting several versions of the strawberry girl questions have been raised by art enthusiasts, what really inspired Reynolds to paint the picture? Was he addressing the predicament faced by strawberry girls? Is it that single pictures of children which he seems interested in providing him flexibility when it comes to his inventiveness?
From his work, Reynolds seems to have an affinity for children’s paintings which were labelled his ‘fancy pictures’ including: Miss Price (1769); Age of Innocence (1788); Cupid as a Link Boy (1773); Miss Jane Bowles (1775); The Infant Samuel (1776); John Parker and his Sister Teresa (1779) and the Brummel Children, just to name a few. Reynolds was an artistic genius. He loved using unconventional materials in his work whilst employing new techniques and different approaches which are said to have compromised on the current condition of the painting. The oil painting canvas has a variation in the tonality of the dress which can be detected by a keen observer; however, it still remains his best work.