The figure meets the viewer’s gaze with notable directness. Her name has not yet been discovered, but her portrait hints at a self-possessed woman who arranged her appearance with care.
She wears an open gown, or robe à l’Anglaise, of blue silk damask a shade deeper than her eyes, embellished with metallic braid, over a petticoat of contrasting pink. Unusually, her dress is closed with three buckles across the bodice—almost certainly a decorative, rather than a functional, device. Over this, she wears a muslin apron embroidered with flowers (possibly rendered using the drawn threadwork technique called Dresden work) and a muslin neck handkerchief, or fichu. These white accessories, like the sleeves of her shift and sides of her cap, are edged in lace. Their presence indicates that she is dressed informally, or “undressed,” according to the parlance of her day. She appears to be engaged in unfolding her fan, revealing a chinoiserie design painted in lively colors, supported on simple ivory sticks and embellished with a lacquered cover and paste “stone” at the hinge.
Like most of Beare’s identified sitters (named by Nigel Surry), the woman in the Mead’s portrait presumably belonged to the landed gentry rather than the aristocracy. She may have lived in or near Salisbury, the cathedral city in the southwest of England where the painter appears to have been based after 1745 (and may possibly have settled by 1738). Alternatively, she may have had ties to London, where Beare appears to have found other sitters at various points in his career.