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Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo

1 of 3 portraits of Charlotte Lennox (née Ramsay)

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© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Portraits in the Characters of the Muses in the Temple of Apollo

by Richard Samuel
oil on canvas, 1778
52 in. x 61 in. (1321 mm x 1549 mm)
Purchased, 1972
Primary Collection
NPG 4905

On display at Royal Academy of Arts, London

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  • Richard Samuel (active 1770-died 1787), Artist. Artist or producer of 2 portraits.

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Britain's artistic and intellectual women were triumphantly celebrated by Richard Samuel in this unusual group portrait exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1779. It depicts nine contemporary creative women dressed in classical-style robes in 'the Characters of the Muses'. Assembled in a 'Temple of Apollo', beneath a monumental statue of the god, they are presented as members of a modern pantheon of arts and letters.

A network of writers, scholars, artists and performers, all the women included - except for Elizabeth Montagu, literary critic and Bluestocking hostess - earned a living from their work. The singer Elizabeth Ann Sheridan is in the centre, holding a lyre. The artist Angelica Kauffman sits at an easel. Other women include the historian Catharine Macaulay, the playwright and anti-slavery campaigner Hannah More and the classicist Elizabeth Carter.

Samuel did not take sittings for this highly-idealised portrait and the identities of the women can only be established from the print published at about the same time. Instead, the painting was a speculative venture to advance Samuel's own ambitions and capitalise on contemporary interest in the Muses. By combining real women with the powerful symbolic figures of the Muses, Samuel's composition extols the contribution of female professionals to the 'sister arts'

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Current affairs

Catholic Relief Act is the first to provide a measure of catholic emancipation, modifying the penal laws that effectively prevented Catholics from holding public office. The reform is encouraged by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield, who had balked at various prosecutions under the statutes now repealed.

Art and science

Francis D'Arblay, writing as Fanny Burney, publishes her novel Evelina, or the History of a Young Lady's Entrance into the World, in which she satirises contemporary society.
Engineer Joseph Bramah invents a type of flush toilet, replacing the usual slide valve with a hinged flap that seals the bottom of the bowl.


American War of Independence: France, joining the American colonies in their fight against Britain, sends a large fleet across the Atlantic. The British rapidly abandon Philadelphia. The American naval hero John Paul Jones makes successful raids around the coasts of Britain.
James Cook's third Pacific voyage, aboard the ships HMS Resolution and HMS Discovery, first views Oahu then Kauai in the Hawaiian Islands, which Cook names the Sandwich Islands.

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