The Painting That Inspired “Belle”

In Perthshire’s Scone Palace (which I assume has buttery walls and tasty furnishings), hanging among the Van Dycks and Teniers and landscapes and paintings of lords and ladies, is a portrait of two young women. One is seated, a tender hand laid upon the arm of her companion who carries a fruit basket, a wry smile creeping across her lips. It would be rather unspectacular, save for the fact that the portrait was painted during the 18th Century and the fruit-bearing woman – in every detail the seated woman’s equal – is black. The painting, attributed to Johann Zoffany, shows Lady Elizabeth Murray and her cousin Dido Elizabeth Belle – and it is Dido’s story which has been adapted for the big screen for the sumptuous new costume drama “Belle.” The two women were cousins, Belle, played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw, was the illegitimate daughter of Admiral Sir John Lindsay, the nephew of Lord Mansfield, while the seated Elizabeth was the daughter of David Murray, the future 2nd Earl of Mansfield. They were raised by Lord Mansfield in Kenwood House in Hampstead, London.

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