This enchanting picture by the Reverend Matthew William Peters depicts a young woman lost in a book, reminiscent of Young Girl Reading by Peters' near contemporary Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (inv. 1961.16.1). In the present work, the sitter wears an intricate white dress with ruffled collar, pink bow and flower. Despite this elegant costume, her outstretched, relaxed right arm and messy curls blend seamlessly into the background suggesting a lighthearted sitter more concerned with the contents of her book than formal propriety.
Born in Freshwater, Isle of Wight, Matthew Williams Peters studied under Robert West at the Dublin Society Schools and by 1759 had moved to London, where he studied with Thomas Hudson. In the first half of the 1760s, Peters visited Italy where he worked under Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787) and made copies after Old Masters including Rubens and Titian. In the subsequent years, he traveled extensively, returning to London in 1766 before going again to Italy in 1771 via Paris. Peters first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1769, becoming a full member in 1778 and resigning in 1790. While he found early success through somewhat risqué pictures of women - perhaps evoked by this painting's effortless femininity - in 1783 he became an ordained minister.