Joshua Reynolds began this portrait of the prominent actress and author Mary Robinson sometime after 1783 but never completed it; a more finished version is now in the Wallace Collection, London. Robinson stares mournfully out to sea, an allusion to the fact that her lover had just fled abroad to escape his debts, an act that led Mary to miscarry their child. X-radiography has also 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. It is unclear how long this early composition lay around in Reynolds's 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 where Mrs. Robison' hand should be, you can just recognize the upside down head of the earlier sitter.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2021


  • Title: Mrs. Robinson
  • Creator: Sir Joshua Reynolds RA, 1723–1792, British
  • Date Created: ca. 1784
  • Physical Dimensions: 36 7/8 × 28 1/4 inches (93.7 × 71.8 cm) Frame: 43 × 35 1/4 × 3 inches (109.2 × 89.5 × 7.6 cm)
  • Subject Keywords: choker, dress, unfinished, actress, Georgian, poet, woman, writer, brushstrokes, portrait
  • External Link: See this work of art on the Yale Center for British Art website
  • Medium: Oil on canvas
  • Repository Name: Yale Center for British Art
  • Credit Line: Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

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