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Thomas Barker (1767-1847)
Priscilla Jones
circa 1796
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Standing against a neo-classical backdrop of grey antique statues, Priscilla Jones is framed by two large Doric columns. The dark background makes her stand out and emphasises the soft colours of her skin and clothing.

But who chose the background and why pick such an austere setting for a portrait of a young English girl? Is it real, might it simply be a reflection of the general style or fashion of the time or does it perhaps symbolise aspects of Priscilla's background, personality or aspirations?
Commissioned by Priscilla's family, the portrait shows her dressed in a simple costume typical of the fashion of the late 18th century: a high waisted loose-fitting white gown over a low lace-trimmed chemise. She is wearing one of her long gloves while holding the other and has a fringed shawl wrapped around her shoulders. Her shoulder-length hair is hanging loose under a bonnet, and although her face and eyes are turned towards us her gaze is not quite catching ours.
Is she perhaps looking past us at something happening in the background or is she lost in her own thoughts?
Priscilla's fresh complexion, slightly ruffled hair and rosy cheeks, which were high fashion at the time, emphasise her youth and childlike qualities, but also make it look as if she is feeling warm. Still wearing her hat and shawl, perhaps she has just returned from a walk outside, perhaps she is feeling tired and bored, or perhaps she is feeling slightly shy of the attention shown to her by the painter.

Thomas Barker (1767-1847) specialised in landscapes and rustic genre paintings, many of which were directly inspired by Gainsborough's works. The portrait of Priscilla Jones is considered one of his most attractive paintings. As they married in 1803, a few years after the portrait was painted, perhaps its soft quality is the result of Barker's growing affection for his young subject.

In 1803, Barker commissioned a large Doric-columned house with a 30ft picture gallery to exhibit his works. The portrait of Priscilla, also with Doric columns in the background, remained in the Barker family until 1939.

Thomas Barker (1767-1847)   Priscilla Jones  circa 1796
Materials and technique: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Holburne Museum: A341
Setting and Symbolism
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