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Artfully Said–Portrait of Mrs. William Man Godschall

John Russell, 1791. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY.

There is so much that I love about this painting. Mrs. Godschall’s kind eyes, the blue tint of her hair, the metallic edging on her ruffles, the bold strokes of paint that give movement and swishiness to the copious layers of fabric, the massive corsage, the phoof of her hat–its wild excess all makes me happy somehow. But could this get-up possibly have made Mrs. Godschall happy? And just where is she under what must be yards and yards of diaphanous ruffleage? Can you image being trapped in all that clothing, having a huge clump of flowers pinned right beneath your nose and having to sit there for hours looking pleasant? It can’t be any fun. Still, I think Mrs. Godschall pulled it off quite well.

So, let’s do a little time-traveling. It’s now 1791. Let’s say that you are Mrs. Godschall–elderly, female, British, wealthy–and held captive in a prison of phoof so all-encompassing that you can’t even find your hands. You are sitting (and sitting and sitting and sitting) while John Russell paints your portrait. Picture your face under that shock of blue hair, held in an expression that you hope is pleasant.

What is going through your head?