Meissonier, Jean Louis Ernest; An Artist Showing his Work; The Wallace Collection

A closer look at Thomas Gainsborough’s full-length portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliott

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Joanne Major and Sarah Murden. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Infamous-Mistress-Celebrated-Dalrymple-Elliott/dp/1473844835

In our biography of the eighteenth-century courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott, we tell her story more completely than ever before whilst also shedding light on her siblings and maternal family who were central to her experiences. Containing many rarely seen images relating to Grace and her family and a wealth of new information, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott is available as a hardback or e-book from Pen and Sword Books and all good bookshops, worldwide.

Today we are going to have a closer look at a fabulous portrait of Grace, who had her likeness painted twice by Thomas Gainsborough. The first was a full-length, probably commissioned by her lover the Earl of Cholmondeley in 1777 and which hung in his London mansion at Piccadilly. When the portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in Pall Mall during 1778 the General Evening Post newspaper called it a ‘striking and beautiful likeness’ of Grace, quoting some lines from The Rape of the Lock by Alexander Pope.

If to her share some female errors fall,

Look on her face, and you’ll forget them all.

Sadly for Grace, the picture proved to have a longer life in the earl’s household than she did; when he refused to marry the divorced Mrs Elliott she upped sticks for France and the Anglophile Duke of Orléans. Reputedly, the portrait was viewed, a few years later, by Cholmondeley’s boon companion, George, Prince of Wales, and he admired both the painting and its subject so much that Cholmondeley was despatched across the Channel to fetch Grace back home from the arms of her French duke and to deliver her into those of a British prince. The portrait is now held in New York, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Over the years the portrait’s condition meant that certain details had been lost, but these can be seen on an engraving made of it in 1779 by John Dean (or Deane, c.1754-1798, draughtsman and engraver (mezzotint)). On his engraving can be seen a flagstone floor and a burst of light coming over the trees in the background.

During treatment of Gainsborough’s portrait of Grace, dark paint was visible under the sky suggesting that the picture may originally have been intended to be much narrower, possibly without the landscape in the background.

The left hand of the 1779 engraving and Gainsborough's portrait, side-by-side.
The left hand of the 1779 engraving and Gainsborough’s portrait, side-by-side.

An additional revelation also came about during the Met’s treatment of the portrait – the presence of a small dog which was once in the lower right-hand corner was also revealed.[i]

Bottom right hand corner of the Gainsborough portrait - can you see an impression of a dog?
Bottom right-hand corner of the Gainsborough portrait – can you see an impression of a dog?

And here is the 1779 John Dean engraving of ‘Mrs Elliot’ courtesy of the Yale Centre for British Art.

John Dean, 1754–1798, British, Mrs. Elliot, 1779, Mezzotint, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
John Dean, 1754–1798, British, Mrs. Elliot, 1779, Mezzotint, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund

Notes:

[i] British Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575-1875, by Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), Katharine Baetjer, 2009.

Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott lived an amazing life in eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century London and Paris. Strikingly tall and beautiful, later lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ in newspaper gossip columns, she left her Scottish roots and convent education behind, to re-invent herself in a ‘marriage a-la-mode’, but before she was even legally an adult she was cast off and forced to survive on just her beauty and wits. The authors of this engaging and, at times, scandalous book intersperse the story of Grace’s tumultuous life with anecdotes of her fascinating family, from those who knew Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, and who helped to abolish slavery, to those who were, like Grace, mistresses of great men. Whilst this book is the most definitive biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliott ever written, it is much more than that; it is Grace’s family history which traces her ancestors from their origin in the Scottish borders, to their move south to London. It follows them to France, America, India, Africa and elsewhere, offering a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, comprising the ups and downs, the highs and lows of life at that time. This is the remarkable and detailed story of Grace set, for the first time, in the context of her wider family and told more completely than ever before.

A View of Paris from the Pont Neuf by Nicolas-Jean-Baptiste Raguenet, 1763, Getty Museum (image via Wikimedia Commons)

Grace Dalrymple Elliott – New book due out January 2016

The 15th of May marks the anniversary of the death of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, Georgian Era courtesan and reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ daughter, Georgiana Augusta Frederica.

Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott (1782–1813), Later Lady Charles Bentinck courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
Georgiana Augusta Frederica Elliott (1782–1813), Later Lady Charles Bentinck courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Grace died in Ville d’Avray, Paris, in 1823, having lived a long and tumultuous life filled with adventure and experiencing both the highs and the lows of the society of her age. Although she is best remembered as a demi-rep, there is so much more to her than that: she was not merely a fashion icon and the mistress of titled men, but a strong woman in her own right, one who lived upon her own terms. Sadly though, at the end of her life, Grace had little left; her one remaining close family relative was her young grand-daughter who she adored, and Grace’s dying regret was that she had nothing but her best wishes to leave her.

As long-term readers of our blog may know, we have written a biography of Grace, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, the product of many years of research into her life, which will be published by Pen and Sword. It contains much information that is new to Grace’s story, and some rarely seen illustrations and pictures too; our book is also a broad insight into the social history of the Georgian era, interspersed with the fascinating lives her maternal and paternal family led across the globe. It is both the story of Grace’s life and her family history.

Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott will be published in January 2016, and is available for pre-order from this summer.

If you would like to be kept informed in the meantime, please do consider subscribing to our blog where, alongside our remit of ‘blogging about anything and everything to do with the Georgian Era’, we will also now post regular updates on the progress of our book.

If you like nonfiction books about strong and remarkable women from history, why not take a look?

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott

Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).
Mrs Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

This is a little bit different for us today as we have some wonderful news that we wanted to share.  We are delighted to let you know that we have signed a contract with Pen and Sword and in January 2016  they will be publishing our book:

An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the Celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott.  

Although we now have a deadline we’re working towards rest assured we still intend to keep up our blog articles about the Georgian era in the meantime. 

We have so much new information about Grace and her family to share in our book and we will keep you updated with our progress.  She’s a truly fascinating woman and we can promise you that it will be a very different biography of her than anything that has gone before.  For those who have never heard of Grace we thought it might be of interest to give you a little background about her. 

Grace Dalrymple Elliott’s name was well known in her lifetime; an ‘infamous mistress’ indeed, she became a fixture in the gossip columns, lampooned as ‘Dally the Tall’ due to her height.  She was also beautiful and, after a scandalous divorce from the portly little doctor she had married when barely out of childhood, she became the amour of titled and influential men, amongst them Prinny, the Prince of Wales and the future King George IV (reputed father of her child) and the unfortunate Phillipe, Duc d’Orléans who lost his head during the French Revolution.  

George IV when Prince of Wales by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782
George IV when Prince of Wales by Richard Cosway, watercolour on ivory, circa 1780-1782; National Portrait Gallery

Grace penned a journal, outlining her own experiences as a prisoner during the French Revolution, living in the shadow of the dreaded guillotine and this, whilst containing many inaccuracies, is one of the few surviving first-hand accounts left of this time by a woman.  After this, and once the years had started to catch up with Grace, her glamorous heyday had passed and she had to survive as best she could, reliant on her wits, family and the charity of friends including  her close friend, who also suffered  the scandal of divorce, Lady Worsley.  But survive she did because one of Grace’s most admirable traits was her strength; at a time when women were expected to be meek and subservient she broke the rules, lived on her own terms and did so with an admirable degree of aplomb. 

If you want to be kept up to date with news on the progress of our book then please do subscribe to our blog.