This recently discovered sketch of Lady Worsley, painted on canvas and laid down on panel, must have been made around 1775-1777. It is a study for the spectacular whole-length picture, which now hangs at Harewood House and has been rapidly executed with the tip of a loaded brush. The work seems entirely consistent in terms of handling and scale with the well-known sketch (in the Tate Gallery) for the Marlborough Family Group. It suggests that, while Lady Worsely's very striking pose - the turn of the head and the jutting elbow - were established early in the planning process, such details as the feathered hat, the riding-habit with its black military-style revers and the white waistcoat and lace, were revised in the course of the sittings that followed.
David Mannings, June 1990
The history of the commissioning of Lady Worsley's portrait is somewhat unclear. Sir Richard Worsley, Bt. was a keen art collector and friend of Reynolds. The artist had visited Sir Richard at Appuldurcombe on the Isle of Wight in June 1773. Following the Worsley's marriage in September 1775, portraits were commissioned of both husband and wife, although because Reynolds notebooks for 1775 and 1776 are missing, it is not possible to locate written evidence of the earlier sittings. The earliest appointments with Lady Worsley of which we have a record are in 1777.
In Reynolds's ledgers for the 16th January 1776 Lady Worsley's name is entered twice against two payments of 150 guineas. 150 guineas we know, from his letters, to be the price he charged for a full-length portrait. It seems likely therefore that Reynolds painted another later portrait, which has not as yet come to light. The possible reason for the disappearance of this later portrait may well be due to the events of 1782.
On 22 February 1782, in the Court of the King's Bench, before Lord Mansfield, Sir Richard brought an action against one of the officers in his own regiment for criminal conversation with his wife. There followed a trial, which resulted in Sir Richard receiving damages of a mere shilling.
The portrait for which the present work is a sketch and which is now hanging at Harewood House was given to Mr Edwin Lascelles who was married to Lady Worseley's mother. It was through this marriage that the portrait passed to the Earls of Harewood.
Sir Joshua Reynolds, manuscript pocketbooks, 1776
Charles Robert Leslie RA and Tom Taylor MA, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, John Murray, London 1865, volume 1, pages 521, 531; volume 2, pages 174, 217-8