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Sir Joshua Reynolds RA, 1723–1792, British
Mrs. Robinson
ca. 1784
Oil on canvas
Support (PTG): 36 7/8 × 28 1/4 inches (93.7 × 71.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
actress | brushstrokes | choker | dress | Georgian | poet | portrait | unfinished | woman | writer
Associated People:
Robinson, Mary (1756/1758?–1800), author and actress
On view
Curatorial Comment:
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Reynolds painted at least four autograph portraits of the prominent actress and author Mary Robinson (1756/58?-1800). According to David Mannings, this unfinished portrait of her is likely to have begun sometime after 1783 and was never completed; a more finished and presumably earlier version is in the Wallace Collection. The Center cleaned the portrait in 2014 to remove a yellow varnish as well as discolored and somewhat deceptive restorations. The painting was discovered to be in surprisingly good condition, a rare example of an unlined eighteenth-century picture that retains its original attachment to an original stretcher. Cleaning and the removal of copious overpaint in the sky and water revealed a cooler tonality and the conservation treatment allowed greater insight into Reynolds’s working process. The bottom quarter shows much bare canvas punctuated by loose brush strokes. The sky was left as an expressive wash of thin, scrubbed-on paint. There are numerous ambiguous forms, indications of experiment and revision. X-radiography revealed an underlying composition: a full-length portrait of a young woman leaning on what is likely a stone plinth adorned with a carved bas relief. The composition is consistent with Reynolds’s female portraiture, but the scale suggests it was probably a sketch for a larger portrait. It is unclear how long this early composition lay around his studio, but to reuse the canvas the artist simply slashed a few strokes of dark paint across the first sitter’s face and rotated the painting 180 degrees. If you look carefully where Mary’s hand should be, you can just recognize the upside down head of the earlier sitter.
--Mark Aronson,2004
Exhibition History:
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Painting in England 1700-1850 - From The Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (Yale University Art Gallery, 1965-04-15 - 1965-06-20)

Sir Joshua Reynolds - experiments in paint (The Wallace Collection, London, 2015-03-12 - 2015-06-07)

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Malcolm Cormack, A Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 184, 185, N590.2 A83 (YCBA)

Lucy Davis, Joshua Reynolds : experiments in paint, The Wallace Collection, London, London, 2015, pp. 156-63, no. 12, color pl and fig. 100, NJ18.R36 J6752 2015 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Elizabeth A. Fay, Fashioning faces, the portraitive mode in British romanticism , University of New Hampshire Press University Press of New England, Durham, N.H. Hanover, N.H., 2010, pp. 205-6, fig. 5.1, PR457 .F34 2009 (YCBA)

Alexandra Gent, Practice Makes Perfect : Reynold's Painting Technique, National Gallery Technical Bulletin, vol. 35, National Gallery Company, 2014, pp. 14, 15, 86, 87, 107 [fn 13], Cat. No. 14 [related work], figs. 10, 186, N8554 L65 35 (CONSERVATION, YCBA) vol. 35 is entitled : " Joshua Reynolds in the National Gallery and the Wallace Collection "

David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, a complete catalogue of his paintings , Yale University Press, New Haven, 2000, v. 1, p. 394, no. 1533, v. 1, fig. 1418, NJ18 R36 A12 M35 2000 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850 from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, The Royal Academy of Arts Winter Exhibition 1964-65., , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 1964, p. 60 (v.1), no. 217, pl. 45, ND466 R68 1964/65 (YCBA) Also available on Microfiche: Fiche B214 (YCBA)

R. J. B. Walker, Regency portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1985, p. 418 (vol. 1), N1090 A592 (YCBA)

Yale University Art Gallery, Painting in England, 1700-1850, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, [exhibition at] Yale University Art Gallery, April 15-June 20, 1965. , vol. 1, W. Clowes and sons, New Haven, 1965, p. 42 (v.1), no. 154, pl. 45, ND466 Y35 (YCBA)

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