Bridget Holmes was a ‘Necessary Woman’ at Court who lived to the age of one hundred. Her period of royal service began during the time of Charles I and continued into the reign of William III and Mary II. She is shown brandishing her brush, playing a game with a Page of the Backstairs.
It was rare in the seventeenth century for domestic servants to be the subject of portraits. There are, however, at least two other examples in Riley’s work: A Scullion (Oxford, Christ Church) and Katherine Elliot, painted jointly with J.B. Closterman (Royal Collection). As one writer expressed it, ‘Riley was most at home below stairs’. For this portrait Riley has used the trappings of the more formal portraiture that he might have been expected to produce in his role as Prinicipal Painter. These include the monumentality of the figure, the curtain and the antique vase. It is possible that some satirical or moral connotation was intended, as in the case of such contemporary painters as Nicholaes Maes, but this would run counter to Riley’s somewhat modest and unpretentious approach to painting. Yet this image of Bridget Holmes anticipates both William Hogarth and Reynolds in its treatment of subject and visual allusions.
Acquired by James II