"Portrait of the Lady Anne of Oakley"

Bison William Cody (1627)

Tangential to mainstream Early Depressionism was the Celebrity Portrait School, of which Cody was a leading proponent. He did full-length formal portraits of actors, singers, dance-hall impresarios and circus stars. It is in the latter category that this painting falls, for Lady Anne was renowned for her prowess with the flintlock pistol shown here, giving amazing demonstrations of her sharpshooting skills across England and the Continent.


At the age of 16 Lady Anne decided that being a mere pawn in the 17th-century aristocratic marriage market was not her style, so one night she slipped away from the family's estate at Oakley, taking with her only the bare necessities: handmaidens, footmen, butlers, the kitchen staff, 2 ladies of the bedchamber, a pack of hounds, her 8 favorite horses, grooms, stableboys, and her complete wardrobe. It took 12 carriages and 16 wagons to carry it all. Slipping under the circus tent in the dead of night was a real challenge.


But she and her entourage adapted quickly to circus life, and it was there that Lady Anne discovered her true talent. Awoken by loud cries of "hey, rube" one morning, she ran to the door of her trailer, snatching up a Colt .38 Aristocrat's Special Lady's Model belonging to a friend. She took aim at the fleeing thief and, with no previous training and at a distance of 150 yards, shot out his bicuspids. Soon she was a sensation, shooting the wisdom teeth out of the Duke of York using a mirror, and popping the dentures out of King Charles the Beige while riding bareback. 


Other paintings by Cody have not survived, perhaps because of the artist's penchant for using paper grocery bags instead of canvas.

 

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