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Regency Portraits Catalogue

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

For this entry I have drawn with gratitude on John Ingamells’ excellent monograph, slightly expanding his check-list on pp 37-9. Lillian Hall, Catalogue of Dramatic Pictures in … Harvard College Library lists 17 engravings. The major portraits of 'Perdita' were painted 1780-3 in her heyday as society beauty famous for her affaires, her hats and her carriages monogrammed MR. The list below does not include the many social satires issued 1780-98 to be found in the British Museum Catalogues, nor have I listed the doubtful and spurious portraits of her; like Nell Gwyn and Jenny Lind, almost any unknown young lady of the period, provided she is beautiful, melancholy of expression and wearing a momentous hat, is dubbed Mrs Robinson as 'Perdita'.

1780-3
Miniature by Cosway at Madresfield Court reproduced in colour Country Life Annual, Christmas 1952, p 84. Williamson in Richard Cosway, 1897 lists several in various collections including one in his own, unfinished and painted for one of his pupils to demonstrate his method of laying on colour, possibly that engraved by Meyer (as 'Perdita'), by Roffe (as 'Melania') and by Condé (as 'Melania') in The European Magazine, 1 November 1792.

Drawing by Downman in British Museum, profile to left in flowery hat, signed with monogram and reproduced Williamson, John Downman, 1907, p 17. Another Downman drawing, identity doubtful, was with Knoedler in 1964.

Oils by Gainsborough 1781: (1) Head and shoulders at Waddesdon Manor reproduced Waterhouse, The James A. Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor, p 47; (2) Whole-length in Wallace Collection P42, reproduced Waterhouse, Gainsborough, plate 238 and John Ingamells, Mrs Robinson and her Portraits, Wallace Collection Monograph, 1978, p 5 in colour; a modello is at Windsor Castle (Sir Oliver Millar, The Later Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen, 1969, 804 and plate 74).

Oils attributed to Hoppner are plentiful but unauthenticated (W. McKay & W. Roberts, John Hoppner R.A., pp 217-18 and Supplement); one is in the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, no.541/2 acquired in 1911 and reproduced Art Journal April 1911. A variant of the Waddesdon Reynolds, believed to be a copy by Hoppner, is in Los Angeles County Museum. A drawing in the British Museum (1868-3-28-342) formerly attributed to J. R. Smith and now to Hoppner, inscribed: Mrs Robinson - P. of Wales, is probably the nearest Hoppner ever approached to a portrait of her (Laurence Binyon, Catalogue of Drawings by British Artists … in the British Museum, IV, p 109 and 'Portrait Drawings', British Museum, 1974, no.317).

Miniature by Meyer exhibited SKM 1865 (666) lent by William Meyer.

Oils by Reynolds: (1) Waddesdon Manor, see NPG 5264. (2) Wallace Collection P45, probably the portrait she sat for in 1784 and engraved by Birch 1787 and S. W. Reynolds 1831 as 'Contemplation' (Wallace Collection Catalogue, 1968, p 273). A drawing for the head is in British Museum Print Room (Laurence Binyon, Catalogue of Drawings by British Artists … in the British Museum, III, p 196), an oil sketch is in Paul Mellon Collection exhibited RA 1964-5 (217), and several studio versions are known. Two miniature copies by Grimaldi are recorded in the Grimaldi Catalogue, no.57: 'Mary Robinson 1795 after Reynolds for George IV and a duplicate for himself half figure in white dress red bow and powdered hair, profile looking to her right'. (3) Sir Edmund Bacon Collection, Thonock exhibited 'Masque of Beauty', NPG, 1964 (27). (4) Miniature in Holburne of Menstrie Museum, Bath, is called Grimaldi after Reynolds and believed to have belonged to Jack Bannister, but does not match any other known portrait of her by Reynolds.

Oil by James Roberts exhibited RA 1781 (107), possibly that engraved by Thornthwaite for Bell's British Theatre, 1777, whole-length as 'Amanda'.

Oil by Romney 1781 in Wallace Collection (P37), half-length in ribboned cap holding muff, reproduced in colour John Ingamells, Mrs Robinson and her Portraits, Wallace Collection Monograph, 1978, p 29; mezzotint by J. R. Smith published 25 August 1781 (Julia Frankau, John Raphael Smith, 1902).

Pencil and watercolour drawing by Rowlandson, 'Vauxhall Gardens', in V&A Museum, exhibited RA 1784 (503) reproduced in colour in John Hayes, Rowlandson, 1972, p 80; Mrs Robinson appears on the right being ogled by the Prince of Wales. A grey wash drawing by Rowlandson in Windsor Castle, 'Mrs R sitting for her picture', is reproduced in A. P. Oppé, English Drawings … at Windsor Castle, 1950, p 86.

Stipple engraving 'from the Life by I K Sherwin 1781' appears to be intended for a miniature.

Later portraits
1787
Miniature by Engleheart, half-length to left in huge feathered hat, is known from the entry in Engleheart's Fee Book and a stipple engraving by Stanier published 1 January 1788 by Torre & Co. A different type, ascribed to Engleheart by Williamson, was in Christie's Pierpont Morgan sale 24-7 July 1935 (327).

c.1790
Miniature by Mrs Joseph Mee in the Garrick Club (427U).

1792
Miniature by G. Place exhibited RA 1792 (251).

1793
Drawing by Dance (NPG 1254).

c.1799
Drawing attributed to Lawrence known from Ridley's plate to The Monthly Mirror, 1799 'from an original drawing by Lawrence', but the title-page states 'A portrait of Mrs Robinson engraved by Ridley from a drawing by the Rev Mr Thomas of Epsom' (Kenneth Garlick, ‘Catalogue of Paintings, Drawings and Pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence’ in Walpole Society Journal, XXXIX, 1964, p 241).

c.1801
Portrait by James Cranke engraved by Hopwood for her Memoirs of the Late Mrs Robinson written by herself, 1801, I, frontispiece.

Undated
Oil by Angelica Kauffman, 'The British Sappho', reproduced Connoisseur, 1903, p 103.

Oil attributed to Zoffany in Garrick Club, as 'Rosalind' in As You Like It (240).

Miniatures by Humphry exhibited Burlington Fine Arts Club, Exhibition of Portrait Miniatures, 1889 (29) and Exhibition of the Royal House of Guelph, New Gallery, 1891 (1030), lent to both by Jeffery Whitehead.

Miniature by Plimer in Wharncliffe Collection, lent to Burlington Fine Arts Club, Exhibition of Portrait Miniatures, 1889.

Miniature by Miss O. Palmer exhibited Exhibition of the Royal House of Guelph, New Gallery, 1891 (1913) lent by J. L. Propert.

Silhouette ex-Francis Wellesley collection, reproduced in E. N. Jackson, History of Silhouettes, 1911, plate XX.

Marble bust by Lochée in Frick Collection, New York, reproduced in T. Hodgkinson, V&A Museum Yearbook, 1969, p 158, identity doubtful.

A small picture by Stroehling, probably painted on copper to match the series of Royal Princesses in the Royal Collection, Kensington Palace (Sir Oliver Millar, The Later Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen, 1969, 1095 ff), shows her as a swarthy Roman Volumnia reclining on a couch by a fountain, engraved by Adlard and published by Kelly in Huish, Memoirs of George IV, 1830, I, p 57.



This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.