French, 1684 – 1745

Portrait of a Lady As Goddess Pomona, c. 1736

Oil on canvas
57 x 44 in.

Collection of The Bass
Gift of John and Johanna Bass

Born at Aix-en-Provence, the first son of Louis Abraham van Loo, Jean-Baptist belonged to a dynasty of painters of Dutch origin who settled in the south of France in the late seventeenth century. Trained by his father, Jean-Baptist specialized in history painting, genre, and portraiture. Among his patrons were the Prince of Savoy and the Duke of Carignan. After his travels to Monaco, Turin, and Rome, Jean-Baptist went to Paris where he was patronized by Louis XV and became a professor of the academy. However, financial misfortunes forced him to return to Aix in 1735 where he remained active almost exclusively as a portrait painter.

In this painting is a depiction of a lady dressed in a rich peach-colored gown with a low-cut bodice, holding a flower in her left hand, and a pruning staff in her right. A putto holds up to her a basket of fruit, with more fruit scattered on the ground. A tall tree and a classical urn on a pedestal on her right set off to the landscape background. Her accessories insinuate that the sitter is posing in the role of Pomona, a Roman goddess who is the protectress of gardens, orchards and fruits. Her attribute is a basket of fruit or cornucopia and is generally seated under a tree while holding a pruning knife.

Pomona is traditionally depicted with her suitor Vertumnus as he approaches her in the disguise of an old woman. The goddess of gardens is an unusual character to be used in portraiture. Aristocratic ladies preferred to pose as more ethereal mythological figures, such as Flora, Diana, or Hebe. However, Louis XIV through his grand scheme of the gardens of Versailles and his own fascination with horticulture had made gardening a fashionable pastime among the wealthy. Hence society ladies did not hesitate themselves to be portrayed en jardiniere, dressed as a lady gardener.