This painting illustrates Alexander Pope's epic poem Eloisa to Abelard, which chronicles the fate of Héloïse, French abbess and scholar, best remembered for her love affair and correspondence with Pierre Abélard.
The Scottish physician William Fordyce, his brother Dr. James Fordyce, a minister and moralist, and James' wife Henrietta, were all close friends with Angelica. Her portrait (unpublished) of William Fordyce is at the University of Aberdeen, Marischel College.
Dr. Fordyce attended her father during his illness in 1780, an illness that delayed their departure for Italy. She wrote in a letter to Henrietta: '...After all the hurry and preparation for my journey hiere [sic] I am still - The cause of the disappointment is for me melancholy, yet after all I have the comfort to be amongst my friends. my best Friend Dr. Wm with his kind attention to my Father is to me the greatest consolation and your last dear letter, my charming Friend revives my spritis Tho ever so much oppressed, I want words to express what I feel - all I can say is that I shall ever estime the continuation of the Friendship of Henrietta, J & Wm Fordyce...' (20 October 1780, MS, The British Library, cited in G.C. Williamson, Angelica Kauffman, R.A., 1924, pp. 60-2).
We are grateful to Wendy Wassyng Roworth for her help in cataloguing this lot.