Frances 'Fanny' Burney

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Frances 'Fanny' Burney

by Edward Francisco Burney
oil on canvas, circa 1785
30 in. x 25 in. (762 mm x 635 mm)
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, 1933
Primary Collection
NPG 2634

On display in Room 3 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Edward Francisco Burney (1760-1848), Artist and cousin of Frances d'Arblay ('Fanny Burney'). Artist or producer associated with 19 portraits, Sitter associated with 1 portrait.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • 100 Writers, p. 41
  • Eger, Elizabeth; Peltz, Lucy, Brilliant Women: 18th Century Bluestockings, 2008 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 13 March to 15 June 2008), p. 25 Read entry

    The novelist Fanny Burney's diaries provide some of the most vivid and witty descriptions of bluestocking society. She also wrote a satirical play about learned women, The Witlings, which her father advised her not to publish in case it offended Elizabeth Montagu. Burney was vehemently opposed to sitting for this portrait by her cousin, a fact that may account for her refusal to meet the viewer's gaze.

  • Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 121
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 60
  • Ross, Josephine, Jane Austen and her World, 2017, p. 85
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 163
  • Uglow, Jenny, Character Sketches: Dr Johnson, His Club and Other Friends, 1998, p. 57
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 112 Read entry

    Fanny Burney’s first novel, the best-seller Evelina, or A Young Lady’s Entrance into the World (1778), was written in extreme secrecy and delivered to the publisher by her brother. Gradually, the news of Burney’s identity spread to the literary friends of the family, including Samuel Johnson, Hester Thrale and Edmund Burke. To everyone’s astonishment Burney became a celebrity. In 1786 she was appointed Keeper of Robes to Queen Charlotte but was unhappy at court and was permitted to retire in 1791. In 1793 she resumed writing after marrying a Frenchman, General d’Arblay, who had fled the Revolution. The profits from Camilla, or, A Picture of Youth (1796) allowed them to build their own house. Her Journals and Letters were published after her death and are a rich source for eighteenth-century historians.

    This portrait is by the novelist’s cousin, Edward Francisco Burney (1760–1848). Her account of the sitting suggests her abiding shyness: ‘to my utter surprise and consternation, I was called into the room appropriated for Edward and his pictures, and informed that I was to sit to him ... Remonstrances were unavailing and declarations of aversion to the design were only ridiculed.’

  • Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 145

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1785back to top

Current affairs

George Prince of Wales secretly marries his mistress Maria Fitzherbert in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act of 1772.
Prime Minister William Pitt introduces a bill proposing parliamentary reform and the abolition of 'rotten boroughs' but is defeated.

Art and science

William Cowper publishes his best -known poem The Task.
James Boswell publishes The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides, narrating his travels with the late writer Samuel Johnson.
Physician and naturalist James Hutton presents his studies of local rocks to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, launching the era of scientific geology.


Warren Hastings resigns as Governor-General of Bengal and returns to England. His trial begins on charges of corruption in the administration of India.
French sculptor Jean Antoine Houdon crosses the Atlantic to sculpt a statue of George Washington.
British government establishes a permanent land force in the Eastern Caribbean, based in Barbados.

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