The fact that she joined the company for coffee suggests that Lord and Lady Mansfield were not ashamed of her, and wanted to show visitors that she was part of the family.
No servant would have been seen drinking coffee with their masters.
Belle’s father was naval officer John Lindsay, nephew to Lord Mansfield.
And so it was Lord Mansfield who came to preside over a key case towards the emancipation of slaves.
James Somerset was an African slave who had been brought here by his master, Charles Stewart.
That precedent signalled that on English soil, no man was a slave.
The muttering in London that Mansfield’s decision had been swayed by his relationship with Belle makes his ruling all the more extraordinary, given how determined he always was to separate the personal from the professional.
The composition above conforms to that of a portrait of sisters but, as far as we know, this is the only portrait of its era to show a white and a black girl together in a sisterly pose.
The portrait was commissioned in the late 1770s or early 1780s by the 1st Earl of Mansfield, William Murray, who as Lord Chief Justice was the most admired judge in 18th-century Britain. The girl in the foreground is Lady Elizabeth Murray, his great niece, who was brought up at Kenwood House on the edge of London’s Hampstead Heath, where this portrait was painted, after the death of her mother when she was a young child.
He was astonished when, after dinner, the 18- or 19-year-old Belle came into the drawing room to take coffee with the guests.
After coffee the ladies left the company to walk in the gardens, and – to Hutchinson’s horror – Lady Elizabeth walked arm in arm with Belle.
The double portrait has a long and distinguished tradition.