The Lady with a Fan by Diego Velázquez, c.1640
The Wallace Collection.
The past few months of mask-wearing have been uncomfortable and disconcerting but the experience has certainly drawn attention to the expressive power of our eyes in communicating character, moods and feelings. This portrait of an unknown lady called ‘The Lady with a Fan’ was painted in the mid 17th Century by the Spanish court artist Diego Velázquez and hangs in the Great Gallery at the Wallace Collection in London. There is scholarly debate about who she was (a Spanish or French noble lady?), a mystery which could certainly be enhanced by an adroit flourish of her fan, if not by the required wearing of a mask. The nuanced expression in her eyes is soft with a touch of melancholy, yet shows a surprising candour and strength of character as she looks directly towards the viewer. Light shines on her forehead emphasising her high hairline and her pronounced eyelids but does not illuminate the secret of her identity.