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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Woffington

The following text is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977 (now out of print). For the most up to date research on the Collection, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text. This can be accessed by following the link with each portrait’s title.

In consulting the following, please note that apart from the reformatting which allows the printed catalogue to be made available on-line the text is as published in 1977. Footnotes in the original edition are given within square brackets.

Contents Foreword Introduction Catalogue scope Abbreviations Arrangement of entries

Margaret Woffington (1714?-60)

Actress; of humble origin, appeared in Dublin lilliputian company at age of ten; played Ophelia successfully at Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin, 1737, and Sir Harry Wildair, 1740; engaged by Rich for Covent Garden, London, 1740, and was immediately successful; at Drury Lane and Covent Garden, 1741-45 played several Shakespearian roles and performed opposite Garrick in King Lear and Richard III;in Dublin, 1751-54, at Covent Garden, 1754; quarrelled with Mrs Bellamy, and while performing opposite her, Margaret, drove her off the stage and stabbed her; her last performance, Rosalind (As You Like It),1757, during which she was stricken with palsy and remained bedridden until death. Her amours were numerous, and for some time she lived with Garrick.

650 Peg Woffington (?), by an unknown artist
Oil on canvas, 35 ½ x 42 in. (902 x 1067 mm); dark brown eyes and eyebrows, near black curly hair, rather pale complexion; white lace cap with blue ribbon; her head supported by a pillow and bolster; grey quilt, crimson drapery, blue and gold tassel in centre foreground.

On the top bar of the stretcher two stencils: 4762 and 911 M, and a manuscript label: 453 H;on the centre bar the label of Henry Graves and Co, 6 Pall Mall, inscribed 2927, and immediately right, aplain label: 2180;on the left-hand bar, a small label: 7; 328A is painted boldly in black on the top-left corner of the relining canvas.

Scharf's note of 1880 begins 'Peg Woffington (in bed) when paralysed obt. 1760 aet [?]12 by Arthur Pond'. [1] Previously attributed to Pond, the visible head is fairly close to the engraving by McArdell of Pond's bust of her holding a posy, though the handling is more fluent than his known work. The rest of the picture consists of rather coarsely painted drapery, perhaps too coarse for the brothers Vanhaecken who were employed by some of the leading London portrait painters. [2] The picture, nevertheless, is not far from, though not by Cotes or Hudson. An x-radiograph taken in 1970 seemed to reveal a pair of pupils directed vertically upwards and an older face, suggesting that the portrait may have been one of another sitter adapted to represent Peg. The sick-bed theme is rare in English 18th-century portraiture, however, and further tests prior to cleaning in 1975 do not indicate that NPG 650 began life as a portrait of a different sitter. The 'pupils' turn out to be highlights on the rim of the present pupils, while the apparent difference in age is probably no more than the difference between underpaint and surface. If this conclusion is correct, the portrait must have been painted after Peg Woffington took to her bed after her collapse on 3 May 1757.

Condition:rather rubbed, e.g. along her right cheek; a number of old damages in the background, including a triangular tear above the sitter's head; three old relinings and one strip lining, surface cleaned and varnished, 1889; cleaned and relined, 1975.

Collections:given 1881 by Sir Theodore Martin, the purchaser of lot 159 at Christie's, 16 July. Scharf noted, when sold through Christie's in the James sale of 3 March 1880, lot 156A, that it 'had belonged to Graves'. [3]

2177Called (Unknown Lady drawing on a glove), attributed to Francis Hayman
Oil on canvas, 24 ½ x 17 5/8 in. (623 x 448 mm); dark brown hair, brown eyes; rose coloured dress with blue underskirt; to the right, a negro page in green coat summons the chairman, approaching in the background.

At the time of its acquisition, NPG 2177 was known as a Highmore and subsequently attributed to Hayman; it is nearer the latter, though not certainly by him. While there is nothing intrinsically against the identification—the costume suggests a date of c.1745—there is no real ground for it and little facial resemblance on comparison with authentic portraits. The features are very close to the Ferguson drawing of the lady formerly in the Wellesley collection, but this itself is also suspect as a portrait of Peg.

Condition:discoloured varnish, pin-holes at corners; otherwise sound, though needs cleaning.

Collections:when bought, 1928, from J. Leger and Son (as by Highmore), stated to have been from the collection of J. Edward Taylor 1912, and to have been exhibited at Whitechapel in1901. It is presumably lot 227 of the Taylor sale, Christie's, 5 July 1912, 'W. Hogarth. Portrait of a Lady In pink dress . . . a. negro page and chair-bearer behind. 24 x 17 ½ ins.'


A number of portraits of unknown ladies, whose features somewhat resembled her, and an even larger number whose features bear almost no resemblance, have been called Woffington, and the subject should be approached with caution. Portraits of Lady Maria (Walpole), who married in 1746 Charles Churchill, and of Ethelreda (Harrison), wife of the 3rd Viscount Townshend, 1703-88, have sometimes been called Woffington or could be mistaken for her. Her sister Mary, who played the part of Cherry in The Beaux’ Stratagem in 1745, subsequently married the Hon. and Rev. Robert Cholmondeley. No portraits of her appear to be recorded but her existence adds a possible hazard to identification. [4] She survived Peg by over half a century.

The following types were engraved in her lifetime: a rather crude anonymous head and shoulders by John Brooks, 1740 (O'D 14); a whole length with a rather similar face in the Witt collection, lettered An Epilogue intended to be spoken by Miss Woffington in the Habit of a Volunteer upon reading the Gazette containing an Account of the late Action at [Elkirk] (?)1745; and a half length oil as a comedienne, by J.G. Eccardt in Lord Talbot de Malahide's collection, companion with a portrait of Nancy Oldfield and engraved by J. Faber junior in 1745 (CS 391). Eccardt also painted her as a shepherdess and the portrait then in Charles Bedford's collection was engraved by Pearson for the European Magazine but only in1795. P. Van Bleeck's portrait of her as Phebe, done in 1747, and E. Haytley's whole length of her as Mrs Ford in The Merry Wives of Windsor are both known only from engravings, the former by the artist 1747 (CS 1) and the latter by Faber in 1751 (CS 392). In 1753 she was painted by John Lewis. The portrait, signed and dated 1753, is in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin [Editor’s note, 2014: another version now National Portrait Gallery]. It was engraved by Michael Jackson. A portrait by Henry Pickering is now known only by an engraving by Faber (CS 393).

Failing a provenance traceable to the sitter or artist, most of the considerable number of portraits stated to represent her, including NPG 650 and NPG 2177, stand or fall on comparison with the above. The Mercier in the Garrick Club, seen at the Mercier exhibition 1969 (35) along with such pieces as 'The Drinker' (16) and 'Girl at a Mirror' (34), seems quite clearly a subject picture. The following appear to have been identified as Peg on insufficient evidence: all the portraits by Hogarth or attributed to Hogarth, including the lady in Mary Queen of Scots costume at Petworth; [5] the principal figure from Plate III of 'A Harlot's Progress' in the Price sale, 1895; [6] the lady in the white lace cap lent by the Marquess of Lansdowne to the British Theatrical Exhibition, 1933 (323) who may be Nancy Dawson; the actress in the role of 'Elvira' in The Spanish Friar, [7] and the lady with the bird cage in the Hanbury Williams collection, [8] painted by Vanloo c.1742. None seems to have been known as her in the eighteenth century.


1. Scharf's annotated sale catalogue (see Collections), NPG archives.
2. See above, 1st Earl of Bath, NPG 337. Joseph Vanhaecken died in 1749 and Ramsay and Hudson were his executors, cp Smart, p.40.
3. Scharf's annotated sale catalogue, NPG archives. Lot 156A must have been an addendum; it is not printed in the catalogue.
4. W.J. Lawrence, 'Peg Woffington's Sister', The Sphere, 19 April 1904, p.48, mentions a portrait of ‘Mary Woffington' by Cotes, but the identification is not certain.
5. C.H. Collins Baker, Catalogue of the Petworth Collection of Pictures in the Possession of Lord Leconfield, 1920, p.24 (214).
6. Christie's, 15 June 1895, lot 6.
7. Exhibited 'Swift and His Age', National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, 1967 (62); replica in the Garrick Club, see Adams, 1936, p.127 (425).
8. Exhibited 'Great Irishmen', Ulster Museum, Belfast, 1965 (236). Another version is in the V & A, Jones Collection (601-1882). The rather similar portraits of Elizabeth Countess of Ilchester (1723-92) in the Ilchester collection, Holland House (1904 catalogue, 147), probably painted in 1744 (Addenda and Corrigenda, 1939, p.17), and at Melbury (1883 catalogue, 41), on the other hand, seem not to represent the same sitter as in the Hanbury Williams picture.


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