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Mrs Mary Robinson (Perdita)
  • Date: 1781
  • Object Type: Painting
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Image size: 233.7 x 153 cm
  • Object size: 269 x 186 x 21 cm
  • Inv: P42
  • Location: West Room
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Further Reading
  • Mary Robinson (1758–1800) was one of the best known actresses and writers of the 18th century. She was also one of the most painted and caricatured woman of the period (see P37, P45 and M40). Having first appeared on stage in 1776, it was a later performance in The Winter’s Tale for which the actress became particularly famous; a part which earned her the nickname ‘Perdita’. It was in this role that Mrs Robinson first caught the attention of the Prince of Wales (later George IV), with whom she went on to have a brief but notorious affair.

    This portrait was commissioned in 1781 by the Prince of Wales (later George IV). He had ended a brief affair with Mrs Robinson, who then sought financial compensation from him; after Robinson resorted to blackmail, he eventually agreed to a settlement in August of that year. Mrs Robinson is depicted holding a miniature portrait of the Prince (1735–1789), a gift from him during their liaison.

    Gainsborough’s fluid brushwork and loose composition are particularly notable. The sitter appears to melt into the landscape, imparting a poetic dimension to the picture. Although it is recognised today as one of the artist’s masterpieces, he withdrew the portrait from the Royal Academy exhibition in 1782 after it was criticised for not conveying an exact physical likeness of the sitter, and was unfavourably compared to portraits of the same sitter by Reynolds and Romney (P37).

    The painting was presented to the 2nd Marquess of Hertford by the Prince Regent in 1818.