Known for his refined and elegant manner, George Romney enjoyed the highest reputation among British portraitists after Reynolds and Gainsborough. After a stay in Italy in 1773–75, where he made drawings after the antique and old masters such as Raphael, his career flourished and he adapted the compositions of these prototypes to portraits in the grand manner.
The Kimbell portrait represents Harriet Gildart (1763–1802), the granddaughter of Richard Gildart, M.P., who was twice mayor of Liverpool. The sitter married the famous brewer of London stout, Andrew Reid, and raised nine children. The dates of sitting for Mrs. Reid’s portrait are recorded in Romney’s diaries, which note that she made half of the payment in March of 1786, and that her husband paid the second half two years later. The sitter’s elegant and shapely form is fashionably elongated as she leans upon a stone pedestal. The upper portion of her hair was altered, probably by another artist, and is dressed in a style later than the date of the portrait. Her graceful, cross-legged pose emulates the classical sculpture of a Muse, implying a meditative, elevated state of mind, while the pale blue silk sash and white gown, flowing like the small waterfall that streams into a brook behind, emphasizes her harmony with the natural landscape.