Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen Joshua Reynolds Buy Art Prints Now
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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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The painting is oil on canvas completed in 1773. It depicts three noble ladies embellishing a statue of Hymen with flowers. Hymen was the Greek god of fertility. The three ladies were known as the Montgomery sisters who were more often associated with elegance than nobility.

The painting is also known as the Irish Graces in tribute to the sisters' Irish upbringing and their exceptional beauty. Luke Gardiner, the commissioner, requested Reynolds to create a portrait of the three ladies featuring a historical artifact. The painter catches the women in motion elegantly dancing in unison with the chain of flowers serving as the link between them. Reynolds wanted to make them alluring and graceful while at the same time depicting an imposing almost intimidating image of Hymen.

Group paintings were common among the nobility in the 18th century as they were the equivalent of family portraits. They were used by the wealth to celebrate their privileged background. Reynolds subscribed to the Grand Style of idealizing imperfection. However, the main inspiration for this painting was the work of Rococo painter, Antoine Watteau, who had knack for producing surreal depictions of lovers in the midst of nature as icons of desire. The similarly in style is evident in Watteau's The Scale of Love, which features light colours for the noble lovers and a statue lurking in the forest in the background. The most devout modern follower of Reynolds is Sam Taylor-Wood who makes panoramic paintings of the middle class.

The painting is consistent with Reynolds preference for painting portraits of wealthy individuals and families. Reynolds eschewed naturalism preferring to do more realistic works that recognised the stratified nature of the British society with the nobility at the top. The fact that girls were playful rather than reverent of Hymen was a demonstration of their privileged status as decorating and offering sacrifices to deities was a routine rite for the wealthy.

The painting is very similar to Reynolds other works such as Lady Talbot that feature excellent brushwork and the blending of porcelain white with other colors to imbue characters with an air of class. The depiction statues lurking in the background is also consistent with other works such as Hon. Miss Monckton. Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen is the property of Tate Britain.