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Creator Sir Joshua Reynolds RA, 1723–1792, British
Title Mrs. Abington as Miss Prue in "Love for Love" by William Congreve
Alternate Title(s) Mrs. Abington as Miss Prue in William Congreve's "Love for Love"
[ Portrait ] of a Lady (three Quarters)
Date 1771
Medium Oil on canvas
Dimensions 30 1/4 x 25 1/8 inches (76.8 x 63.8 cm) Frame: 37 3/4 x 33 x 3 1/2 inches (95.9 x 83.8 x 8.9 cm)
Credit Line Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Accession Number B1977.14.67
Collection Paintings and Sculpture
Curatorial Comment The actress Frances (Fanny) Barton, better known as Mrs. Abington, was one of the most popular stars of the London stage. She grew up in the slums near Drury Lane; sold flowers in Covent Garden (where she was called “Nosegay Fan”); worked for a French milliner in Cockspur Street; and was employed by the cook and future comedian Robert Baddeley, who gave Fanny her first big break. She married James Abington, one of the king's trumpeters, and became a star in the Drury Lane Company, managed by the actor-manager David Garrick. She created the role of Lady Teazle in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s “The School for Scandal” (1777). In this portrait, Reynolds (an admirer) portrays Mrs. Abington in one of her most successful roles, that of the young ingénue Miss Prue in William Congreve’s somewhat dated 1694 comedy “Love for Love”. She played that part for the first time in December 1769, and the sittings for this portrait took place either in December or in March and April 1771. Showing her in character (and adopting what was then taken to be a suggestive, or at least unrefined, pose—unthinkable for a lady—and exploiting as a strategically positioned fascinator the Hepplewhite chairback upon which she rests her arms), the work is both a portrait of unusual directness and candor, her thumb coyly hovering on the lower lip, and a “historical” picture, whose associations went beyond the subject's likeness, which Horace Walpole thought “easy and very like” (Mannings and Postle, 2000, p. 56). Reynolds painted at least half a dozen portraits of Mrs. Abington in 1771 and two further paintings that must correspond to surviving notes in Reynolds's appointment books for 1773 and 1780. The latter of these, which is untraced, showed the actress in character once again, this time in the role of Roxalana, the English slave in Isaac Bickerstaff’s play “The Sultan”, which was first performed in 1775 in Drury Lane. In that drama, “the playful, unequal, coquettish Roxalana,” wrote Sir Uvedale Price, “full of sudden turns and caprices, is opposed to the beautiful, tender, and constant Elvira; and the effects of irritation, to those of softness and languor” (Graves and Cronin, 1899–1901, vol. 1, p. 5).
     -- Angus Trumble, 2007-01
Link to This Record
People Represented or Subject • Abington, Frances (1737–1815), actress
Subject Terms actress | bracelets (jewelry) | chair | costume | dog (animal) | gesture | hand | love | performance | portrait | pose | sky | stage | theater (discipline) | woman

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 98-99, no. 35, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's legacy, a passion for British art : masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 28, 255, no. 31, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Lindsay Rothwell, Paul Mellon's legacy, an American's passion for British art : Sackler Wing of Galleries, 20 October 2007 - 27 January 2008 : an introduction to the exhibition for teachers and students., Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 2007, pp. 18-20, no. 31, V 2038 (YCBA)

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Algernon Graves, A history of the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A., Henry Graves & Co., London, UK, 1899, p. 4, NJ18 R36 G73 OVERSIZE (YCBA) , Also available on Microfiche: Fiche B6 (YCBA)

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Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1723-1792, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, 7 octobre - 16 December, 1985 [and] Royal Academy of Arts, Londres, 16 janvier - 30 mars, 1986., Editions Réunion des Musées Nationaux, Paris, 1985, pp. 35, 188-90, no. 38, NJ18 R36 P4514 (YCBA)

Ian McIntyre, Garrick, Allen Lane, London, 1999, no. 24, PN2598 G3 Z9 M25 1999 (YCBA)

In honor of Paul Mellon, collector and benefactor, Essays, National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC & Hanover, NH, 1986, pp. 2-3 5, fig. 1, N7442.2 M455 1986 (YCBA)

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Ellis Waterhouse, An Impressive Panorama of British Portraiture, Apollo, v. 105, no. 182, April 1977, pp. 246-7, cover, N1 A54 + (YCBA) , Another copy of this article may be found in a separately bound and catalogued copy of this issue located on the Mellon Shelf [call number : N5220 M552 A7 1977 + (YCBA)]

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Geoffrey Agnew, Yale's 1700 Mellon Pictures, The Times (London), issue no. 59989, Thursday, April 28, 1977, p. 9, Available Online : Times Digital Archive , Also available on Microfilm : Film An T842 (SML)

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Joseph Musser Jr., Sir Joshua Reynold's 'Mrs. Abington as Miss Prue', South Atlantic Quarterly, vol. 83, Spring 1984, pp. 176-92, A89 250 (SML)

Charles Robert Leslie, Life and times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, with notices of some of his contemporaries., John Murray, London, 1865, pp. 226-7, NJ18 R36 L47 (YCBA) , Also available on Microfche: The Nineteenth Century: Visual Arts ; Pos: Fiche.N.4.2.357) (SML Fiche B1244 Fiche.N.4.2.357)

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