Mrs Bennett — before and after

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By | From the Collections

These two paintings are part of an archive of Georgian paintings and drawings which appear to come from Leeds. Works from this old Yorkshire collection have been appearing in dribs and drabs, from several different dealers, since 2004. This pair of portraits was among the first works from the collection to have been acquired by the Wellcome Library.

The two portraits show the same person, “Mrs Bennett”, before and after treatment. The one on the left is inscribed “Mrs Bennett. Disease from 1818 to 1821”, and shows Mrs Bennett in a lace cap and night-gown, afflicted with a skin disease (or a skin manifestation of systemic disease) covering most of her face and parts of her neck and chest. The painting on the right, showing her perfectly recovered, is inscribed “Under cure from from 1818 to 1821”. These could well be the first clinical Before-and-after pictures in the Wellcome Library. A few others are listed here, though the list is certainly not exhaustive.

These two paintings are also the first items in this archive to have been conserved: when they were acquired, they were both ragged and unstretched pieces of painted canvas. Now they have been cleaned, lined and stretched, and are ready for framing. To see them in greater detail, click on the images above.

Yes, a Georgian Mrs Bennett. And if you are struggling to remember when Pride and prejudice, featuring a Hertfordshire family of Bennetts, was published, the answer is 1813 – not so long before this Yorkshire Mrs Bennett entered into the care of the (as yet unknown) physician, surgeon or apothecary who commissioned these two paintings of her.

Wellcome Library: left no. 603108i, right no. 603109i

Author: William Schupbach

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