Catharine Macaulay (née Sawbridge)

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Catharine Macaulay (née Sawbridge)

by Robert Edge Pine
oil on canvas, circa 1775
54 in. x 41 1/4 in. (1372 mm x 1048 mm)
Purchased, 1985
Primary Collection
NPG 5856

On display in Room 10 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Robert Edge Pine (1730-1788), Painter. Artist or producer associated with 73 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Painted at the outset of the American War of Independence, this political portrait conveys Macaulay's commitment to representative government. To indicate her republican sentiments and belief in democracy, she is dressed as a Roman matron, but also wears the distinctive purple sash of an elected Roman Senator. The letter in her hand refers to her friend and patron Revd Thomas Wilson, who probably commissioned this portrait.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG 1357: Catharine Macaulay (née Sawbridge) (after)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 41 Read entry

    Described by Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-97) as a ‘woman of the greatest ability, undoubtedly, this country has ever produced’, Catherine Macaulay (1731-91) was a pioneering British historian and radical. A celebrated Bluestocking, she made her name through her eight-volume, political History of England from the Accession of James I to That of the Brunswick Line (1763-83), which was innovative in its broad-canvas approach to history-writing and strong in its Radical leanings. Her Letters on Education (1790), with its challenge to patriarchy, is said to have inspired Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), while her political work, Observations on the Reflections of The Right Hon. Edmund Burke on the Revolution in France (1790), championed the Revolution. A republican sympathiser, she corresponded with George Washington, whom she had met in 1785, and who deemed her the spokesperson for radical England. Despite the restrictions on women at that time, she exerted influence, both politically and socially. A well-heeled widow from 1766, her second marriage in 1778 – to William Graham, a ship’s mate, who was twenty-six years her junior – was proof of her lack of concern for social conventions or her critics. In this portrait, she is depicted wearing a sash of the kind worn by Roman senators (who were male), representing her commitment to republicanism and democracy.

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  • Pickpocketing the rich : portrait painting in Bath 1720-1800, 2002 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from Catalogue of an exhibition held at the Holburne Museum of Art, Bath, 25 June - 15 Sept. 2002), pp. 8-9 number 40
  • 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. 95
  • Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 322
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 397

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1775back to top

Current affairs

Act of Parliament extends inventor James Watt's patent (first granted in 1769) and the first steam engines are built under it.
First known building society - Ketley's Building Society - is established in Birmingham by Richard Ketley, landlord of the Golden Cross Inn.

Art and science

First performance of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play The Rivals at the Covent Garden Theatre in London.
Artist J.M.W. Turner is born.
Satirist James Gillray's first engravings and etchings are published.
Navigator Captain Cook publishes his discovery of a preventive cure against scurvy, in the form of a regular ration of lemon juice.


War of American Independence begins with British defeat at Lexington and Concord and lasts until 1783. British achieve a narrow and costly victory over the Americans at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Edmund Burke delivers a speech to the British Parliament on conciliation with the American colonies.
First performance of Pierre Beaumarchais' comic opera The Barber of Seville in Paris.
Pope Pius VI succeeds Pope Clement XIV as the 251st pope.

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