13 August 2009 - 21 September 2009
For just one month, by gracious permission of Her Majesty the Queen, visitors will have the unique opportunity to see two versions of one of the eighteenth century’s most famous portraits, of one of the first true celebrities in the modern sense, Mrs. Mary Robinson, better known as ‘Perdita’.
The seventeen year old Prince of Wales (later George IV) became infatuated with Mrs. Robinson in 1779 on seeing her as ‘Perdita’ in The Winter’s Tale at Drury Lane. ‘Perdita’ as she was then nicknamed, became his first mistress. Towards the end of 1780 the prince abandoned her and she spent the following eight months struggling to persuade him to honour his obligations. Gainsborough’s portrait partly served to support her claims and influence public opinion in her favour. Robinson remained a controversial, high profile and fascinating figure throughout her life and turned to writing poetry, novels and even a feminist treatise.
The Wallace Collection’s Portrait of Mrs. Robinson (‘Perdita’) by Thomas Gainsborough has been painstakingly cleaned over the last months. Formerly under several layers of yellowed varnish, Gainsborough’s exquisite colour scheme has come to light once again. We are now able to enjoy one of the great masterpieces of British eighteenth-century portraiture very much as intended by the artist.
By gracious permission of Her Majesty the Queen, the Royal Collection has agreed to lend Gainsborough’s sketch for the portrait. It will be on show in the Great Gallery next to our painting, providing the first chance to compare the two versions since the nineteenth century.
The Wallace Collection’s conservation programme of eighteenth-century portraiture continues: Reynolds’ portrait of Mrs. Carnac was taken out of the Great Gallery in June – the first of twelve paintings by Reynolds which will be cleaned and thoroughly examined over the next few years to prepare for an exhibition and new publication.