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Mary Robinson (née Darby)

46 of 1413 portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Mary Robinson (née Darby)

by or after Sir Joshua Reynolds
pen and brown ink over pencil, circa 1782
10 in. x 8 in. (254 mm x 203 mm)
Purchased, 1979
Primary Collection
NPG 5264


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Sitterback to top

  • Mary Robinson (née Darby) (1756 or 1758-1800), Known as 'Perdita'; writer, actress and mistress of the future George IV. Sitter in 12 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), Painter and first President of the Royal Academy. Artist associated with 1413 portraits, Sitter associated with 38 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The daughter of an American seaman, Mary Darby became the wife of an indigent articled clerk, Thomas Robinson, with whom for a while she shared a debtors' prison. She was both actress and authoress, but she is known above all as a great beauty. She was first taken up by David Garrick and performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. As Perdita in a royal command performance of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale in December 1779 she captivated the Prince of Wales, later George IV. She became his mistress but he soon jilted her and she was left heavily in debt. A leader of fashion, she went on to have an affair with the politician Charles James Fox but her greatest love was Banastre Tarleton, a debt-laden cavalry officer. In 1783 she miscarried as she dashed to Dover to prevent his fleeing the country and was left semi-paralysed. In her last years she published a stream of melancholy, conventional verses, as well as novels, plays, a tract on women's rights, and extensive memoirs.

Linked publicationsback to top

Events of 1782back to top

Current affairs

Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford resigns as Prime Minister over recent setbacks in America and is succeeded by Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham who takes office for the second time. Rockingham dies on 1 July and is succeeded by William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne.
Repeal of Poynings Law and Declaratory Act of 1720 gives virtual legislative autonomy to Ireland.

Art and science

After a poor reception in the mid 1770s, actress Sarah Siddons makes a triumphant return to the Drury Lane Theatre, London in the title role of Isabella, or, The Fatal Marriage. She will become the century's best known tragic actress.
Clergyman and artist William Gilpin publishes Observations on the River Wye; a central text in the formulation of the concept of the picturesque.

International

American War of Independence: Siege of Gibraltar reaches a climax in the Grand Assault but French and Spanish forces are unsuccessful. Britain loses Minorca prompting the Prime Minister, Lord Rockingham, to open peace talks with the Americans. Thomas Grenville is sent to Paris to negotiate with Benjamin Franklin.
Paper manufacturer Joseph Montgolfier sends a hot-air balloon 1000 meters into the air, in front of a crowd in the Ardèche in France.

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