The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Mrs Mary Nesbitt
  • Joshua Reynolds (1723 - 1792)
  • Mrs Mary Nesbitt
  • England
  • 1781
  • Painting
  • Oil on canvas
  • Size: 76.5 x 63.2 x 2.5 cm, unframed
    Frame size: 99 x 85 x 6 cm
  • P43
  • West Room
Further Reading
  • Mary Davis (1743-1825) was a courtesan who married the wealthy merchant banker Alexander Nesbitt (1730-1772) in 1768. By 1771, she had become the acknowledged mistress of Augustus Hervey, 3rd Earl of Bristol (1724-1779). Mary inherited large fortunes from both men. However, she did not receive anything from Lord Bristol until a lawsuit was settled in her favour. She commissioned this portrait from Reynolds in the early 1780s, perhaps to mark the end of the lawsuit and the beginning of her financial independence. The dove, which was added at a late stage, may be an allusion either to love or innocence. The feigned oval surround was a popular device in British and French portraiture in the early eighteenth century.
    The 4th Marquess of Hertford bought the picture in 1859, writing to his agent Samuel Mawson that ‘I should like Mrs Nesbitt – Mrs Robinson & her will do well for Paris where I have no Sir Joshuas’.