Portrait of the mystery lady: The incredible story behind the 18th-century painting that inspired a new movie

May 5, 2014 4:56 PM

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Portrait of the mystery lady: The incredible story behind the 18th-century painting that inspired a new movie

The artist must have known that it was an unusual commission. The double portrait has a long and distinguished tradition. Typically, the subject would be a husband and wife, a mother and child, or sisters. The composition above conforms to that of a portrait of sisters but, as far as we know, this is the only portrait of its era to show a white and a black girl together in a sisterly pose.

The portrait was commissioned in the late 1770s or early 1780s by the 1st Earl of Mansfield, William Murray, who as Lord Chief Justice was the most admired judge in 18th-century Britain. His name by this time was irrevocably linked with the rights of slaves as a result of his judgment in the infamou...

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