The very first thing that catches the attention in this putting portrait shouldn’t be essentially the small balloon. It’s, relatively, the sitter who attracts our consideration along with her extraordinary hat and regular gaze.

Letitia Ann Sage turned a star in 1785 as “the primary English feminine aerial traveller”. She was invited by Vincenzo Lunardi to affix his balloon ascent on 29 June from St George’s Fields in London. With a watch to publicity, Lunardi had requested Sage for the honour of taking her into the “blue Paradisian skies” in homage to her magnificence.

Whereas Sage was not the primary lady in England to journey by balloon she was however a pioneer in that type of flight. The primary balloon flight (crewed and free-flying) had taken off from Paris solely two years earlier, with a balloon designed by the Montgolfier brothers.

“Balloonomania” struck the general public creativeness and flights appeared in work and on objects from prints and medals to followers and snuffboxes. But, taking to the skies remained harmful, and Sage was conscious that solely two weeks earlier Pilâtre de Rozier had died when his balloon caught fireplace and crashed.

A view of the inside of the Pantheon, Oxford Road, displaying Lunardi’s Balloon as exhibited in 1784. Fashionably dressed figures stand beneath the balloon and on the balcony above. {Photograph}: Heritage Photos/Getty Photos

Sage later printed an account of the journey, A Letter, Addressed to a Feminine Buddy. By Mrs Sage, the First English Feminine Aerial Traveller. Her journey was accomplished with Lunardi’s assistant George Biggin, after Lunardi had gallantly, however maybe foolishly, given up his place when the deliberate group proved too heavy for the balloon. The pair made a wide range of meteorological observations, together with temperature, humidity and {the electrical} properties of clouds, in addition to having fun with ham, hen and a glass of wine.

Sage expressed herself “infinitely higher happy with my tour, than I ever was at any former occasion of my life” and the event was commemorated in a variety of photos. This portrait got here to the Science Museum within the bequest of Winifred Penn-Gaskell, an avid and knowledgeable collector of early aeronautica, whose preliminary supply to the V&A was declined and so handed throughout Exhibition Highway. It’s now on everlasting show in Science Metropolis 1550-1800: The Linbury Gallery situating Letitia Sage alongside different 18th-century pioneers.

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