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Painted ladies: women at the court of Charles II, 1660-85

Yale Center for British Art, New Haven

Much neglected Restoration portraiture is the focus of this exhibition (25 Jan-17 March) co-organised and curated by London’s National Portrait Gallery. The paintings of mistresses and other less scandalous women at the court of Charles II attracted an average of 554 visitors a day at the exhibition’s London appearance, a respectable figure for a paying show. Will US audiences be as easily seduced? This is the first time that an exhibition dealing with the Restoration period has been shown in the US and it will be transferred to Yale in its entirety, golden bed included. The sumptuous boudoir setting created for the display of these portraits at first sight seems to contradict the hint of feminism that motivated the curators. The exhibition, however, aims to give back to these women a degree of the power they wielded at court. As co-curator Julia Marciari Alexander comments, the paintings are “visual testaments to the power and beauty of successful and knowing painted ladies.” So; a restoration of the reputations of these much maligned women or an excuse to show off pretty ladies and their considerable assets?

Appeared in The Art Newspaper Archive, 121 January 2002