The following note is very largely based on an unpublished paper on this drawing, written for Kurt Meissner by Prof. David Weinglass.
Though Füssli was often highly critical of what he called “face painters”, his own works frequently included recognisable images of specific women. In the 1780s, he made some dozen sketches of the Hess sisters, and there are approximately 120 extremely varied portraits of his wife, Sophia Rawlins, executed over the period up until 1811, when for some reason he suddenly ceased to depict her. After this, he made various drawings of younger female subjects, among them the fourteen known portraits, dating from 1810-15, of Lavinia de Irujo, of which this is one. (For others, see G. Schiff, Johann Heinrich Füssli, Zurich 1973, nos. 1656-61, 1824-5).
Lavinia was the natural daughter of Carlos Martinez Irujo y Tacon, 1st marques of Casa-Irujo. Her father was later to be appointed Spanish ambassador to the United States of America, but before that served in London, where Lavinia was born on 4 November 1794 (she died some time after 1855). When Füssli first sketched Lavinia, she was a schoolgirl of fifteen and a half; here, she must have been a good three years older, and the drawing must therefore date from around 1813-14. Several of Füssli’s other portraits of Lavinia are significantly less romanticised than this example, in which we see in its fullest expression the emphasis on eyes, hair and neck that typify this remarkable artist’s unique approach to women.
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