Watercolour; signed and dated 1893
38.25 x 25 inches
Royal Institute of Painters in Water Colours, 1893, no. 666
The Theatre, Vol XXI, 1893, illustrated p 224
This is Portia in The Merchant of Venice, disguised as a male lawyer in order to plead for the life of her beloved Bassanio, who is indebted to Shylock for a pound of flesh against a loan. Bassanio defaults, and Shylock insists on his revenge - but when Portia tries and fails to appeal to Shylock’s humanity, she defeats him in court with a legal loophole: if Shylock sheds blood in getting his pound of flesh, he will have broken the terms of the bond. Portia is often depicted as fair and passive; instead, here we have a dark, dynamic, and powerful Portia, one of literature’s older and most famous female role models.
When it was exhibited at the Royal Institute of Painters in Water-colours in 1893, the critic of The Era wrote ‘an agreeable figure of the lady whose knowledge of the law was so happily employed to defeat the savage revenge of Shylock ... The members of the court are lightly sketched, the figure of Portia being the prominent feature of the work’.