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C O U R S E 
Sexing the Canvas: Art and Gender
Jeanette Hoorn, The University of Melbourne
C O U R S E   L E C T U R E 
The Ligoniers: The Tensions of Gender in Paint
Notes taken on October 22, 2016 by Edward Tanguay
the Ligonier paintings
Edward, Second Viscount Ligonier
Penelope, Viscountess Ligonier
both portraits painted in 1771
located at The Huntington Art Collections in California
outstanding examples of 18th century portraiture
fine examples of the gendered culture of sensibility
Gainsborough painted a number of portraits of the gentry and landed aristocracy
in which horses take a prominent position
Ligonier's father George Pitt
founded library at Oxford
commissioned for Gainsborough to paint both paintings
Painting #1: Edward, Second Viscount Ligonier
presents Lord Ligonier in quotidian mode, as an everyday man of sensibility
he is relaxed and leaning against his horse
the horse is place more prominently in the composition than its master
and addresses the viewer in a more engaging way
British portraitists grappled with teh problem of introducing horses into human portraiture without physically dwarfing the man or woman who constitutes the portrait's principal subject
avoided direct comparisons of the human sitter and his or her equine companion
often relegating the horse to a marginalized position within the picture
but Gainsborough took pains to give the two figures equal prominence
made comparisons between Lord Ligonier and his horse inescapable
the placement of the Viscount's raised right arm
his dangling hat
his flaring coat
server to cut off the receding hindquarters of the horse
so that it appears to stand upright on two legs like the man beside it
the horse attracts the eyes as much as the gentleman does
the horse is made to take on some of the characteristics of femininity
ingratiating femininity (intended to gain approval or favor)
the soulful gaze
the horses alertly cocked ears
the romantically flowing forelock invest the creature with an uncanny appearance of sympathetic sensitivity
the horse is threatening to upstage its master as the primary subject of the picture
or it may be a way to emphasize the quality of the man of sensitivity of one who is kind and attentive to the horses on which he depended
Viscount Ligonier was the owner of a large stable of horses
known to spend large periods of time in the company of his animals
Ligioner is presented in a very relaxed, if not slightly roguish pose
legs astride
while his mare stands neatly and and modestly by his side
perhaps Gainsborough simply intended to accurately represent Ligonier with a loved mare
his portrait is not unsympathetic to Viscount Ligonier
the portrait is a celebration of the mare and her master
an informal and very lively portrait of a country gentleman with his horse
Painting #2: Penelope, Viscountess Ligonier
painted in early 1771
the culture of sensibility was itself a culture of women
two sides of the culture of sensibility's orientation toward reform were
1. the liberation of women from their internalized and brutally enforced limitation
2. reformation of men
both stemmed in part from the reformist impulses of women who sought to change mild manners from the vice, profanity, wantonness in the dueling culture of the masculine sphere
to a way of life that celebrated virtue, abstemiousness, piousness, charity, homeliness, and an appreciation of the arts
these values were generally considered to be feminine
its fundamental intention was to reshape men
although each sex was to be softened and sensitized
some proponents of the culture of sensitivity claims that women were capable of all things
"there is no labor of the brain which women are not as capable of performing at least as well as men"
female sexuality was also emerging as a subject for scientific debate
some theorists of sensibility argued that women as well as men had a sex drive, and that women had a sexual appetite that was as innate as that of men
the heroines of the 18th century novels show that they wish for and need sexuality
but with a partner tested for civility, gentleness and mutuality
novels were full of elopement and of clandestine correspondence between women avoiding authoritarian husbands and their lovers
with the emergence of woman's self-assertive consciousness came a concern over what was described as the woman of unbridled sexual sensibility, especially among literate women
one of the reasons that the novel came under attack was that reading them could sexually arouse women and this made marriages uncontrollable
there are few portraits of this quality painted of women in 18th century Britain that are associated this level of sexual scandal
less than three months after the portraits were complete and while they were still on exhibition at the Royal Academy
Viscount Ligonier fought a duel with his wife's lover, Count Vittorio Alfieri
Lady Ligonier fled to France
the Viscount sued for divorce
dueling was one of the practices which the culture of sensibility sought to outlaw
in this sense Viscount Ligonier failed the test of sensibility
Count Vittorio Alfieri
was more a man of sensibility
poet and playwright
the founder of Italian tragedy
but him seducing Lady Ligonier and then leaving her would certainly not qualify him as a man of feeling
Gainsborough noted that he was forced in accepting this commission
he completed the portraits under some duress
a number of characteristics in these portraits suggest that Gainsborough noticed the difficulty in relationship between the two sitters
and made a subtle commentary upon it in his paintings
Viscountess Ligonier stares in a very determined way out of the picture plane
and away from the viewer
refusing to meet our gaze
her look is independent and aloof
her manner so decisive as it might be defined as defiant
her attitude seems at odds with that of a demure and happy wife
or perhaps she's merely lost in determined thought
included attributes associated with passion
the shell motif prominently placed on the pedestal behind Lady Ligonier
a symbol of Venus
resting upon the pedestal is a statue of a naked, dancing, bacchant
Penelope is dressed in a Roman-style costume
she pulls the skirt of her costume with her right hand to her hip, revealing her petticoat
all of these features suggest that Penelope has had or will have her way in love
Gainsborough is sexualizing Lady Ligonier
showing her as a fashionable and independent woman of her time
but Penelope's father hung this picture in his house suggesting that there was nothing particularly provocative in the way his daughter had been presented