Elizabeth, Mrs. John Bostock, ca. 1769
Oil on canvas
50 x 40 in. (127 x 101.6 cm)
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Joseph Wright of Derby painted this portrait of Elizabeth Bostock shortly after his arrival in Liverpool, on the northwest coast of England, in 1769. Elizabeth Bostock was born into one of the Liverpool families that had recently risen to prominence as merchants and manufacturers, the Ashtons. Her first husband, John Bostock, was also a prominent Liverpool businessman. Wright painted several members of the family, including Elizabeth, her sister Anna, and her sister-in-law Mary, all of whom appeared in the series of three portraits now known as the "Ashton Ladies," of which this is one. In the paintings, three young ladies are all given an elegant setting and a genteel occupation: Elizabeth, as can be seen here, is arranging flowers; Anna poses as a shepherdess; and Mary holds a book of poetry. They are all deep in thought, and have averted eyes, which look wistfully into an undefined distance. Compositionally - with a receding landscape on the left and framing tree on the right - and in size the three portraits are nearly identical. Toward the end of the eighteenth century, families such as the Ashtons were promoting a thriving Liverpool art scene and buying country houses. By painting their portraits, artists such as Joseph Wright of Derby were giving these new merchant families their first touch of culture and, at the same time, helping mark their arrival in high society.
By descent from the sitter to David Ashton-Bostock; Christie's, London, November 15, 1996, lot 27
B. Nicholson, Joseph Wright of Derby, Painter of Light, 1968, Vol. 1, pp. 4, 33-34, 99-100, 177, Vol. II, p. 43, pl. 66; J. Egerton, Wright of Derby, exhibition catalogue (London, Tate Gallery; Paris, Grand Palais; New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art), 1990, p. 66
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