chapter  1
26 Pages

The portrait in public

WithJoe Bray

In a discussion of the troubled history of the contribution of portraits to the Academy's exhibitions, Marcia Pointon has argued that portraiture was the Royal Academy's source of sustenance and its pervasive poison. The principal figure of Minerva is a portrait of Mrs Neville's patroness, Lady Witlington, who declares that her protge has great excellence in portrait painting. The circumstances in which both characters and portraits are viewed in Edgeworth's fiction thus have a significant effect on the ways in which they are interpreted. Edgeworth's novels and tales feature portraits in a wide variety of settings, from the Royal Academy exhibition, to the painted glass of a country house, to the private art gallery in a Parisian apartment. The extent to which Edgeworth was personally familiar with the social opportunities presented by public exhibitions is a matter of debate. The display of paintings is also a frequent trigger of emotion, and a cause of tension, in Edgeworth's mid-career novels.