The earliest known portrait of the infamous eighteenth-century courtesan, Grace Dalrymple Elliott is a miniature painted by Richard Cosway around the time of her marriage to Dr (later Sir) John Eliot. It can be viewed on the cover of our biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress.
Incidentally, Cosway lived on Berkeley Row where Grace was seen in a bagnio with the worthless Viscount Valentia, an indiscretion which led to a Criminal Conversation trial and her divorce; Cosway was called to the trial as a witness and testified to the disreputability of Mrs Jane Price’s house.
Then there are the two well-known portraits of Grace by Thomas Gainsborough, both now held in museums in New York. The full-length of Mrs Elliott was commissioned by her lover the 4th Earl (later 1st Marquess) of Cholmondeley and hung in his mansion in Piccadilly, and remained there even after their romance was over and Grace was in Paris, in the arms of the Duke of Orléans. Reputedly, the young Prince of Wales stood in front of this portrait and expressed his wish to meet the original; Cholmondeley was despatched to Paris to bring Grace home and she enjoyed a few short weeks as the Prince’s paramour and gained a permanent reminder and claim to the royal purse in the form of their daughter, born nine months later, Georgiana Seymour. We have examined this portrait, now in the Met Museum, in more detail in a previous blog post.
While her star burned brightly as Prinny’s courtesan (she replaced Perdita aka the actress and courtesan Mary Darby Robinson in the prince’s affections), Gainsborough was commissioned to paint a head and shoulders portrait of Grace. Although by the time it was finished, the prince had long since abandoned its subject, it is a stunning portrait and one that gained an instant fame when it was first exhibited. Grace, it was thought, exuded a much too ‘knowing’ look.
These are all the confirmed portraits of Grace. There is a chalk drawing by Hoppner which is traditionally thought to be of Grace, and the jury is out on this one with us. It could possibly be her (we’ve discussed this drawing before too, here).
But Grace was a noted beauty and, for many years, a fixture in the society gossip columns. We can’t believe that there were no other portraits of her. We know of none painted while she was resident in France, and the Duke of Orléans would surely have commissioned a portrait or at least a miniature of his stunning mistress. It was with some excitement then, that we noticed a pastel portrait supposed to be of Grace had been added on to The Getty site. The provenance for the sitter being Grace comes from a 1906 edition of The Connoisseur, in which the portrait is reproduced as a colour plate; it is this image which is on The Getty website. The publication gives no other evidence for claiming the sitter is Grace. However, we can’t see Grace in this portrait (although we’ll grant the nose is a similar shape). Doing a little digging we found that there are several versions of this portrait. Many have passed through various auction houses over the years, as a portrait of an unknown woman, one is held in Riga Castle and one in the Royal Collection where it is traditionally claimed to be a likeness of one of the daughters of George III. So, we’ll leave this one with you, for your response. Do you think it is Grace, or not?
The Connoisseur, volume XVI, 1906
Neil Jeffares, Dictionary of pastellists before 1800