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Mary Shelley

5 of 11 portraits by Richard Rothwell

Mary Shelley, by Richard Rothwell, exhibited 1840 -NPG 1235 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

Mary Shelley

by Richard Rothwell
exhibited 1840
29 in. x 24 in. (737 mm x 610 mm)
NPG 1235

This portraitback to top

The date of this portrait is indeterminate and has in earlier catalogues been placed at about 1841. But Rothwell exhibited his portrait of Mary Shelley in 1840 and moreover an entry in Godwin's diary for 18 May 1831 may well refer to this portrait, though in it her appearance could certainly be described as nearer 40 than 30 (information from Professor Paula Feldman). Possibly several sittings took place between 1831 and 1840. There is no trace of the disfigurement she suffered as a result of the smallpox attack in Paris. The 'flame' in the background, thought by Mrs Bray to represent 'Shelley's spirit hovering over Eternal Rome', was revealed by Buttery's cleaning. The picture hung over the mantelpiece in the place of honour in the Shelley 'sanctum' at Boscombe Manor (R. Glynn Grylls, Mary Shelley, 1938, p 253).

Physical descriptionback to top

Half-length in black low-cut dress with brown waistband; dark brown hair tied with a gold fillet and pearl clasp, grey-green eyes, clear healthy complexion, aged about 40; leather upholstered chair, red cushions, brown cover, dark red curtain in left background, a streak of light or flame to right.

Provenanceback to top

Family possession and bequeathed by her daughter-in-law Jane Lady Shelley, 1899.

Exhibitionsback to top

RA, 1840 (459); Third Exhibition of National Portraits, South Kensington, 1868 (271) lent by Sir Percy Shelley Bart; Cork, 1971; 'Byron', V&A Museum, 1974 (K10).

Reproductionsback to top

Photogravure by Annan & Swan in Mrs Julian Marshall, Life and Letters, 1889, I, frontispiece.


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.

View all known portraits for Richard Rothwell

View all known portraits for Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley