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Lady Brisco was born Caroline Alicia Fleming, the daughter of Gilbert Fane Fleming and Lady Camilla Bennet. In 1776, the year this portrait was completed, she married John Brisco (1739–1805). Her elaborate hairstyle – piled high, powdered with milled wheat starch, and ornamented with an ostrich feather was quite literally the ‘height’ of fashion in the 1760s. Such ostentatious styles were mocked mercilessly by the satirical cartoonists of the day. The sitter’s figure appears somewhat elongated; a factor strengthening the theory that Gainsborough intended to exhibit this piece at the Royal Academy the following year. This slight distortion was a pragmatic response to The RA’s crowded displays, which positioned full-length portraiture above head height.
Lady Brisco's wealth was derived largely from the proceeds of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. She inherited several estates under the will of both her father and husband across St Christopher Island – present-day St Kitts – which was then part of the British Leeward Islands colony.
Lady Brisco (d.1822)
oil on canvas
H 235.2 x W 148.5 cm
Iveagh Bequest, 1929