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

A chance discovery or a red herring: is this another portrait of Grace Dalrymple Elliott?

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.

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

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.

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

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.

Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough

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).

Unidentified lady, thought to be Grace Dalrymple Elliott by John Hoppner, British Museum.
An unidentified lady thought to be Grace Dalrymple Elliott by John Hoppner, British Museum.

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?

Pastel portrait claimed by The Connoisseur (1906) to be of Grace Dalrymple Elliott, but we doubt the provenance of this. Read why on our blog.
Pastel portrait reproduced from The Connoisseur (1906) and claimed to be of Grace Dalrymple Elliott.

 

Left, the pastel portrait reputed to be of Grace Dalrymple Elliott and right, for comparison, a cropped image from the full-length portrait of Grace by Thomas Gainsborough.
Left, the pastel portrait reputed to be of Grace Dalrymple Elliott and right, for comparison, a cropped image from the full-length portrait of Grace by Thomas Gainsborough.

 

Sources:

The Connoisseur, volume XVI, 1906

Neil Jeffares, Dictionary of pastellists before 1800

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Sandpit near Sudbury, Suffolk by Joshua Kirby (1716-1774)

Sarah Trimmer née Kirby (1741-1810), author, critic and educational reformer

Sarah Trimmer née Kirby, author, critic and religious and educational reformer, was born in 1741 at Ipswich, the only daughter of the Suffolk landscape painter Joshua Kirby (a close friend of Thomas Gainsborough) and his wife Sarah née Bell. The Kirby family, including Sarah’s younger brother, William moved to London in 1755 where Joshua Kirby tutored the Prince of Wales (the future George III) in perspective.

Sarah Kirby (née Bull) and her husband (John) Joshua Kirby by Thomas Gainsborough, c.1751-52. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sarah Kirby (née Bull) and her husband (John) Joshua Kirby by Thomas Gainsborough, c.1751-52. © National Portrait Gallery, London

Many well-known personalities of the day counted the Kirbys as friends, including William Hogarth and Samuel Johnson and, as befitted the daughter of an artist, and one with social connections to the best artistic and literary talents of the day, Sarah later had her portrait painted three times, by Henry Howard, George Romney and Thomas Lawrence. She herself was a talented amateur artist, and several miniatures by her survive.

Sarah Trimmer by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c.1790. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sarah Trimmer by Sir Thomas Lawrence, c.1790. © National Portrait Gallery, London

In time, the family moved to Kew when Joshua Kirby was appointed Clerk to the Works of the Royal Household at Kew Palace and it was at Kew that Sarah met her future husband, James Trimmer whose family owned a brick making business at Brentford; the young couple married on 21st September 1762, at Ealing. The notice of their marriage in the Ipswich Journal reveals the name by which Sarah was known to her family.

MARRIAGE – At Great Ealing, Mr. James Trimmer, of Brentford, to Miss Sally Kirby, of the Chapelry of Kew.

A View of the Palace at Kew from the Lawn, in the Royal Gardens at Kew, 1763. This plate was engraved after Joshua Kirby for William Chambers’s Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew, published in 1763 and dedicated to the Dowager Princess of Wales.
A View of the Palace at Kew from the Lawn, in the Royal Gardens at Kew, 1763. This plate was engraved after Joshua Kirby for William Chambers’s Plans, Elevations, Sections and Perspective Views of the Gardens and Buildings at Kew, published in 1763 and dedicated to the Dowager Princess of Wales. Royal Collection Trust/© Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2017

The Trimmers had twelve children in all, equally divided between boys and girls and – as she was responsible for their education – Sarah, both a mother and a teacher, discovered a lifelong passion for education. She founded the first Sunday school for poor children in 1786 and began to write and publish books, initially treatises on how to establish Sunday schools with a sub-text of social reform and then branching out into instructive works and fiction for children, such as her Fabulous Histories. She also reviewed children’s literature in her periodical, The Guardian of Education, with the aim of influencing both authors and publishers and redefining the content of these books.

She used to say, that as soon as she became a mother, her thoughts were turned so entirely to the subject of education, that she scarcely read a book upon any other topic, and believed she almost wearied her friends by making it so frequently the subject of conversation. Having experienced the greatest success in her plan of educating her own family, she naturally wished to extent that blessing to others, and this probably first induced her to become an author.

After James Trimmer died in 1792, Sarah and her unmarried daughters moved to Brentford, and it was there that she died on 15th December 1810, in the act of writing a letter.

Sarah Trimmer by Henry Howard, c.1798. © National Portrait Gallery, London
Sarah Trimmer by Henry Howard, c.1798. © National Portrait Gallery, London

She had been known to fall asleep at her desk in her study, and so when her daughters found her, with her head bowed forward onto her bosom, they assumed she merely slumbering and it was some time before they could be made to believe that she was dead. This gave rise to a few ‘Chinese whispers’ which were reported in the newspapers, with a slightly more lurid take on poor Sarah’s demise.

MRS TRIMMER – This authoress died under circumstances of a peculiar nature. Having received intelligence of the death of a favourite sister, she sat down to write a letter of condolence to her family; but soon after, on her female servant going into the room, she found her mistress sitting, apparently in the utmost composure, with her pen in one hand, and her head reclining on the other; in this attitude it appears that she died. What added to the singularity of this extraordinary occurrence was, that although she had been dead three weeks, her countenance had not changed in the least, and in consequence her relatives had directed that no interment should take place, in the hope (a vain one, it is feared) that the body might be recovered from a trance.

Sarah had no sister, favourite or otherwise, and her sister-in-law – and her brother – had both died some years previously. She was buried on the 5th January 1811, in a family plot in St Mary’s churchyard, Ealing, the delay between her death and burial probably being more to do with the weather and the season rather than any fanciful notions supposed to have been entertained by the children of such an eminently sensible, moral and instructive mother.

Portrait of Sarah Trimmer by George Romney (1734-1802). Image taken from Illustrated Catalogue of the Fifth Series of 100 Paintings by Old Masters, being a portion of the Sedelmeyer Gallery, Paris, 1899.
Portrait of Sarah Trimmer by George Romney (1734-1802). Image taken from Illustrated Catalogue of the Fifth Series of 100 Paintings by Old Masters, being a portion of the Sedelmeyer Gallery, Paris, 1899.

One of Sarah’s daughters, at least, followed in her footsteps; her daughter Selina was appointed by the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire to be the governess to their daughters and their cousins, including the future Lady Caroline Lamb. You can read more about Selina and her life as a governess in the Cavendish household here, in a blog post by Lauren Gilbert.

 

Sources not mentioned above:

Ipswich Journal, 25th September 1762

Chester Chronicle, 1st February 1811

Chalmer’s General Biographical Dictionary, volume 30

Brentford High Street Project: The Trimmer family

 

Featured image:

Sandpit near Sudbury, Suffolk by Joshua Kirby (1716-1774)

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 duc d’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 duc 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.

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

Does this chalk drawing depict Grace Dalrymple Elliott?

Unidentified lady, thought to be Grace Dalrymple Elliott by John Hoppner, British Museum.
Unidentified lady, thought to be Grace Dalrymple Elliott by John Hoppner, British Museum.

A chalk drawing dating to around 1782 by John Hoppner, whilst unproven, is reputed to depict the celebrated courtesan Grace Dalrymple Elliott.  If there is a corresponding portrait it has yet to be discovered.  There certainly does look to be a good similarity between the Gainsborough portraits of her and, if it is Grace, it dates from the time of her pregnancy with the reputed child of George, Prince of Wales (and the end of her relationship with her royal lover).  The lady in the portrait is wearing a chemise à la reine, a diaphanous white muslin gown made popular in France by Queen Marie Antionette and in 1782 the latest fashion.  Grace was one of the first women in London to appear dressed in one of these gowns, along with Georgiana, the Duchess of Devonshire and the Prince’s former mistress, the actress and courtesan Mary Robinson (Perdita).

Mrs Mary Robinson (1758–1800), as 'Perdita' by John Hoppner, c.1782. (c) Chawton House Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Mrs Mary Robinson (1758–1800), as ‘Perdita’ by John Hoppner, c.1782.
(c) Chawton House Library; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Hoppner was connected with the Court, having been encouraged to paint by George III and eventually becoming Principal Portrait Painter to the Prince of Wales in 1793 after the death of Sir Joshua Reynolds.  Is it just possible that this chalk drawing is Grace, sitting for a portrait commissioned by the Prince and that nothing more than a preliminary sketch was produced following the rupture of their union? What do our readers think?

Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough. Courtesy of the Frick, New York.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott by Thomas Gainsborough.
Courtesy of the Frick, New York.

You can read more about Grace in our book, An Infamous Mistress: The Life, Loves and Family of the celebrated Grace Dalrymple Elliott, which is the product of many years of research into her life and which is available now in the UK, published by Pen and Sword Books. Containing 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 family led across the globe. It is both the story of Grace’s life and her family history.

Divorced wife, infamous mistress, prisoner in France during the French Revolution and the reputed mother of the Prince of Wales’ child, notorious eighteenth-century 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 history 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.

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

 

Sources:

British Museum