Thomas Gainsborough (British, Sudbury 1727–1788 London)
Oil on canvas
92 1/4 x 60 1/2in. (234.3 x 153.7cm)
Bequest of William K. Vanderbilt, 1920
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 629
In 1774 Gainsborough moved from Bath to London, and by 1777 he was well established, exhibiting portraits of members of the royal family at the Royal Academy. This full-length of the statuesque Mrs. Elliott—a Scottish lady of great beauty but easy virtue—was apparently commissioned by her lover, the first marquis of Cholmondeley, and was exhibited at the R.A. in 1778. Its elegance, delicate coloring, and fluid handling reflect the influence of Van Dyck.
The sitter, born Grace Dalrymple, styled herself Mrs. Elliott and was the divorced wife of the Scottish physician Dr. (later Sir) John Eliot. Her parents had separated during her infancy, and her mother died while she was still a child. She may have attended a convent school in France or Flanders and then joined her father, the Scottish advocate Hew Dalrymple, in London. Reportedly she was seventeen when she married the thirty-five-year-old Dr. Eliot in 1771. In 1774, her husband applied for a divorce, presenting evidence of her elopement with a young, married Irish peer; the divorce was granted two years later. In 1782 Grace gave birth to a child, Georgiana (MMA 15.30.38), who is thought to have been fathered either by the Earl of Cholmondeley or, as her mother claimed, by the Prince of Wales. Georgiana remained with the Cholmondeleys, while in 1786 Grace settled more or less permanently in France, becoming the sometime companion of the duc d’Orléans, Philippe Égalité. She lived in Paris through the Terror and described her experiences in fanciful terms in a manuscript titled Journal of My Life during the French Revolution, published in 1859. She died alone at Ville d’Avray in 1823.
The present portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1778 and was almost undoubtedly commissioned by Cholmondeley, in whose family it descended for more than a century. An oval portrait by Gainsborough of Grace Elliott (Frick Collection, New York), shown at the Royal Academy in 1782, is a more seductive and private image and may have been commissioned by the Prince of Wales. John Dean engraved the MMA painting in mezzotint in 1779. Dean’s engraving is useful because it records details of the surface that have since been lost, including a flagstone pavement and, notably, a burst of light over the trees in the background that seems to have been a colorful sunset. Dark paint under the sky visible in a photograph made during treatment suggests that Gainsborough may at first have conceived the picture without a landscape, or with a very much narrower one. A pentiment that can be read in the same photograph indicates that there had been a small dog in the lower right corner. Generally speaking, the picture is not in good state, with traction cracks and abrasion throughout. The head is rather better preserved.
[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
George James Cholmondeley, 1st Marquess of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall, King's Lynn, Norfolk (by 1778–d. 1827); Marquesses of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall (1827–1884); George Henry Hugh Cholmondeley, 4th Marquess of Cholmondeley, Houghton Hall (1884–at least 1885; sold to Vanderbilt); William K. Vanderbilt, New York (by 1888–d. 1920)
London. Royal Academy. "[no title]," 1778, no. 114 (as "Portrait of a lady; whole length").
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Art Treasures of the Metropolitan," November 7, 1952–September 7, 1953, no. 133.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of Fifty Centuries," November 15, 1970–February 15, 1971, no. 338.
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "Gainsborough," February 9–May 11, 2003, no. 52.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Gainsborough," June 9–September 14, 2003, no. 52.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion," May 3–September 4, 2006, unnumbered cat. (p. 153).
Cincinnati Art Museum. "Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman," September 18, 2010–January 2, 2011, pl. 6.
San Diego Museum of Art. "Thomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman," January 29–May 1, 2011, pl. 6.
Morning Chronicle, and London Advertiser (April 25, 1778), no page number.
Morning Post, and Daily Advertiser (April 27, 1778), no page number, finds Gainsborough's portraits far superior to Reynolds's in their "brilliancy of colouring"; notes that "the portraits he has exhibited on this occasion consist chiefly of 'filles de joye,' and are all admirable likenesses, No. 114, particularly being that of the beautiful Mrs. E---".
General Evening Post (April 30–May 2, 1778), no page number, refers to it as "a striking and beautiful likeness of an unfortunate lady (Miss D-----ple)".
George Williams Fulcher. Life of Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. London, 1856, pp. 110, 187, 228, mentions it by implication as "Portrait of a lady," sent to the Royal Academy in 1778; notes that the whole length of Mrs. Elliott was reproduced in mezzotint by J. Dean, 1779.
Grace Dalrymple Elliott. Journal of My Life During the French Revolution. London, 1859.
John Chaloner Smith. British Mezzotinto Portraits. London, 1883, p. 163.
F[rederic]. G[eorge]. Stephens. Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. Exh. cat., Grosvenor Gallery. London, 1885, p. 58, in notes on the oval portrait of Mrs. Elliott belonging to the duke of Portland, no. 110, mentions our painting in the collection of the marquis of Cholmondeley, probably engraved by Dean.
Montezuma [Montague Marks]. "My Note Book." Art Amateur 19 (August 1888), p. 51, places the portrait in the collection of W. K. Vanderbilt.
C[harles]. F[airfax]. Murray. Catalogue of the Pictures Belonging to His Grace the Duke of Portland, at Welbeck Abbey, and in London. London, 1894, p. 156, mentions it in his entry on the Portland portrait.
Mrs. Arthur Bell (N. D'Anvers). Thomas Gainsborough: A Record of His Life and Works. London, 1897, ill. opp. p. 78 (Dean mezzotint).
Walter Armstrong. Gainsborough & His Place in English Art. London, 1898, pp. 125, 195 [popular ed., New York, 1904, pp. 167, 228, 264], dates it slightly earlier than the Portland portrait, from the artist's last years in Bath.
William B[iggs]. Boulton. Thomas Gainsborough: His Life, Work, Friends, and Sitters. London, 1905, p. 174, dates it earlier than the Portland picture, which he considers finer.
Algernon Graves. The Royal Academy of Arts: A Complete Dictionary of Contributors and Their Work from its Foundation in 1769 to 1904. Vol. 3, London, 1905, p. 192, as no. 114 in the 1778 Royal Academy exhibition.
Horace Bleackley. Ladies Fair and Frail: Sketches of the Demi-Monde During the Eighteenth Century. London, 1909, p. 213, ill. opp. p. 190 (Dean mezzotint) [French ed., "Les grandes courtisanes anglaises du XVIIIe siècle," Paris, n.d., p. 232, ill. opp. p. 224 (Dean mezzotint) and frontispiece].
Freeman O'Donoghue. Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Vol. 2, London, 1910, p. 159.
William T[homas]. Whitley. Thomas Gainsborough. New York, 1915, pp. 154–57, 188, 243, quotes contemporary newspaper descriptions of the portrait when in the 1778 Royal Academy exhibition; suggests Mrs. Elliott may have sat to Gainsborough as Madame St. Alban in 1785.
"The William K. Vanderbilt Bequest." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15 (December 1920), p. 270, dates the picture early in the 1770s, toward the end of Gainsborough's Bath period.
Hugh Stokes. Thomas Gainsborough. London, 1925, p. 96.
R[obert]. R[attray]. Tatlock inA Record of the Collection in the Lady Lever Art Gallery Port Sunlight, Cheshire. London, 1928, vol. 1, p. 52, mentions it in his description of a half-length portrait of Mrs. Grace Dalrymple Elliott, no. 81, attributed to Gainsborough Dupont.
C. H. Collins Baker. British Painting. London, 1933, p. 279.
The Frick Collection Handbook. New York, 1947, pp. 57–58, as "more dashing" than the Frick portrait.
Art Treasures of the Metropolitan: A Selection from the European and Asiatic Collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1952, p. 231, no. 133, colorpl. 133, dates it to Gainsborough's successful stay in Bath.
E[llis]. K. Waterhouse. "Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough." Walpole Society 33 (1953), pp. 37, 124, no. 1, states that it was painted for the Marquess of Cholmondeley and sold from Houghton to W. K. Vanderbilt in about the 1880s.
The Frick Collection: An Illustrated Catalogue of the Works of Art in the Collection of Henry Clay Frick. Vol. 12, Paintings and Sculpture Acquired 1931–1955. New York, 1955, p. 7, in a description of the Frick portrait (no. S2), considers our painting earlier, and as "formal" as theirs is "intimate".
Ellis Waterhouse. Gainsborough. London, 1958, pp. 66, 294, no. 239, pl. 184.
Bernice Davidson. The Frick Collection: An Illustrated Catalogue. Vol. 1, Paintings: American, British, Dutch, Flemish and German. New York, 1968, p. 56.
Introduction by Kenneth Clark inMasterpieces of Fifty Centuries. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1970, p. 292, no. 338, ill. pp. 64 (color detail) and 292, dates the portrait to not long before 1778, noting that Gainsborough combines the "monumental quality" of Van Dyck with the "grace and elegance" of Watteau.
John Hayes. Gainsborough: Paintings and Drawings. London, 1975, p. 222, places our portrait four years earlier than the Frick portrait, and states that ours was commissioned by Lord Cholmondeley.
Joseph Burke. English Art 1714–1800. Oxford, 1976, p. 216, pl. 63A, relates the pose to one of Gainsborough's favorite Van Dyck attitudes.
Isabelle Worman. Thomas Gainsborough: A Biography 1727–1788. Lavenham, 1976, pp. 104–5.
Antony Griffiths inGainsborough and Reynolds in the British Museum. Exh. cat., British Museum. London, 1978, p. 58.
Howard Hibbard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1980, pp. 384, 389, fig. 698.
Jack Lindsay. Thomas Gainsborough: His Life and His Art. New York, 1981, p. 139, sees "a certain pathos" in the depiction of Dolly the Tall.
Richard G. Mann inSpanish Paintings of the Fifteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. Washington, 1990, pp. 8–9 n. 22.
Malcolm Cormack. The Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough. Cambridge, 1991, pp. 19, 27–28, 124, colorpl. 47, mentions how well Gainsborough assimilated Van Dyck, admires the elongated proportions, "courtly sensuousness," and elegant pose.
Gainsborough and Reynolds: Contrasts in Royal Patronage. Exh. cat., Queen's Gallery, Buckingham Palace. London, 1994, p. 14.
Katharine Baetjer. "British Portraits in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Summer 1999), pp. 36–39, ill. (color, overall and details), mentions that the Prince of Wales admired the portrait when he saw it at Houghton, notes Van Dyck's influence in the color and format.
Bettina Gockel. Kunst und Politik der Farbe: Gainsboroughs Portraitmalerei. Berlin, 1999, p. 24, fig. 16.
Michael Rosenthal. The Art of Thomas Gainsborough: 'a little business for the Eye'. New Haven, 1999, pp. 96, 277, colorpl. 91, mentions that the contemporary press satirized as well as praised Gainsborough for his portrayals of "upper-class courtesans like Grace Dalrymple".
Christine Riding inGainsborough. Exh. cat., Tate Britain. London, 2002, pp. 126–27, no. 52, ill. (color), sees the sitter's pose as reminiscent of Van Dyck and Lely, proposes that Gainsborough may have been evoking "the hedonism of the Restoration court, and in particular the mistresses of Charles II," considering the décolleté more seventeenth than eighteenth century.
Gill Perry. Spectacular Flirtations: Viewing the Actress in British Art and Theatre 1768–1820. New Haven, 2007, p. 68, fig. 44, reproduces this picture while discussing a different portrait also by Gainsborough of the same sitter.
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 84, 102–4, no. 45, ill. (color).
Benedict Leca inThomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman. Ed. Benedict Leca. Exh. cat., Cincinnati Art Museum. London, 2010, pp. 60, 100, colorpl. 6, ill. pp. 60, 100, 104, 106–7 (overall and color details).
Aileen Ribeiro inThomas Gainsborough and the Modern Woman. Ed. Benedict Leca. Exh. cat., Cincinnati Art Museum. London, 2010, pp. 132–33, ill., notes that "the scalloped edge to her gown is reminiscent of a peeress's coronation robe, a hint perhaps that Elliott considered herself a virtual countess" through her relationship with the Earl of Cholmondeley.
Malcolm Warner. "Books: British Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Burlington Magazine 153 (April 2011), p. 257, reviews Ref. Baetjer 2009.
Mark Hallett. Reynolds: Portraiture in Action. New Haven, 2014, pp. 274–75, fig. 256 (color), discusses its reception at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1778.
Another bust-length portrait once ascribed to Gainsborough Dupont, possibly of Mrs. Elliott, is in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, Lancashire.