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Peg Woffington

Peg Woffington, by Unknown artist, circa 1758 -NPG 650 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Peg Woffington

by Unknown artist
circa 1758
35 1/2 in. x 42 in. (902 mm x 1067 mm)
NPG 650

Inscriptionback to top

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, a plain 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.

This portraitback to top

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.

Footnotesback to top

1) Scharf's annotated sale catalogue (see Provenance), NPG archives.
2) See 1st Earl of Bath, NPG 337. Joseph Vanhaecken died in 1749 and Ramsay and Hudson were his executors, cp A. Smart, The Life and Art of Allan Ramsay, 1952, p 40.

Physical descriptionback to top

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.

Conservationback to top

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.

Provenanceback to top

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'. [1]

1) Scharf's annotated sale catalogue, NPG archives. Lot 156A must have been an addendum; it is not printed in the catalogue.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, 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 Margaret ('Peg') Woffington


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