Wednesday, November 30, 2011

another mrs. robinson

I remember seeing this painting at the Wallace Collection in London when I was on study abroad, and being absolutely taken with it. It is a rather large portrait by Thomas Gainsborough of a very scandalous woman in the 18th century. Mrs. Mary Robinson was an actress, a poet, a feminist author, and a mistress with many admirers (including the Prince of Wales). The Prince, in fact, commissioned this painting after terminating their relationship. You can find his small, blurred portrait inside the locket she is holding  in her hand.

"You idiot, Your Highness" is jokingly said to be the message of the painting.

Now I didn't actually know anything about her when I saw this painting. But in person, you can almost feel the story radiating from her expression and eyes without knowing anything about her scandalous life. I didn't know what it was, but I knew Gainsborough had captured something intriguing about her. It is still one of the most memorable paintings I have ever seen in person (and for those who were in london with me, you know we saw A LOT of paintings!).

Ironically, she is nicknamed "Perdita" for her most famous role as the Shakespearean heroine. The name means "lost little thing" or "lost little woman." And for the most part--despite her many talents, writings, and infamy--she is mostly forgotten.

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