Our watercolour is a 19th century copy the picture in the Wallace Collection. The original oil painting in the Wallace Collection looks very different now to how it looked when it was first painted. It is partly as a result of Reynolds’s experimental approach to painting and in particular his use of unconventional materials that the condition of the picture has deteriorated. Multiple layers of varnish have been detected and, consequently, it is now difficult to discern any variation in the tonality of the dress. Thankfully the colours in our watercolour are very good so we can at least have some idea how the painting must have looked when it was painted sometime in the early to mid 19th century. Small copies such as this example would have been produced by artists in schools such as the Royal Academy.
Reynolds produced at least four versions (oil paintings) of the Strawberry Girl in the 1770s. The surviving two examples – at The Wallace Collection, London and another in the collection at Bowood House, Wiltshire – correspond to two distinct compositional types. The principal difference concerns the style of the headdress – in the Bowood painting the tassels of the cap cover the girl’s hair completely. Reynolds considered the painting to be, according to his pupil James Northcote, not only “one of his best works”, but one of only half a dozen really original works that any artist could paint during their entire career. The picture was exhibited the picture at the Royal Academy in 1773
Strawberry girls were a common sight in eighteenth-century London, as girls from poor families attempted to make money selling the fruit on street corners and ‘Strawberry Gardens’.