Nellie O’Brien by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Wallace Collection

Today I went to the Wallace Collection, ostensibly to look at the Manolo Blahnik collection of shoes inspired by the museum, but very soon I was totally distracted from the shoes by the pictures themselves. The collection itself is mesmerising. I know that I should look at one or two paintings, contemplate and enjoy them, instead of rushing like a hungry butterfly from picture to picture and back again, not knowing what to dwell upon and just wanting to absorb everything at once. The worst thing is they let you take photographs so you always have the excuse that you can contemplate at home. But you can’t look at everything through a lens, yet you can’t remember everything without one. What a dilemma.

So I compromised – I looked as slowly as I could, took a few photos and decided to write down some fairly random thoughts. I am not an artist, nor a critic, and I can’t even say I know what I like or why I like it.

But this is a picture that definitely took my fancy. Once you have looked at Miss O’Brien’s glowing chest – quite demure – your eyes are immediately drawn to her rather fine hat. She’s sitting outside in a fairly heavy quilted dress, warmed by her dog on her lap, wearing a slight straw hat covered in dead bird. It must have been quite uncomfortable and possibly itchy. Yet she has the sweetest expression on her face as she stares at the painter. The colours in this picture are subtle – almost autumnal, and the lace of her sleeve is so fine that you want to touch it. The notes at the side of the painting tell me she was a courtesan. Is that important? She was obviously important enough to be painted and therefore remembered. I am glad about this, because she looks like someone who would be very interesting to talk to. Kind yet gossipy; definitely discreet. My kind of girl!

What do you think of her?

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