This mezzotint engraving after Thomas Gainsborough’s portrait of Mary Graham shows the sitter with her left arm resting on the plinth of a fluted column. She wears a plumed hat and a dress with a ruffed neckline. The dress is decorated with bows at the elbows, ropes of pearls and a jewel beneath the neckline. Both the dress and accessories deliberately echo 17th-century fashion.
‘Mrs Graham’ was born the Honourable Mary Cathcart, daughter of Charles, ninth Lord Cathcart, who served as Ambassador to Catherine the Great. Mary married Perthshire landowner Thomas Graham, Baron Lynedoch (1748-1843) in 1774. Gainsborough’s portrait of Mrs Graham (now in the National Gallery of Scotland) was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1777.
From 1780 the Grahams spent several years on the Iberian Peninsula in the hope that the warm climate would improve Mary’s failing health. They returned to Scotland by 1785. However, Mary's health continued to weaken and the couple returned to the Continent in 1790. Mary died of consumption during a sea voyage off Hyères in June 1792. At Toulouse her coffin was broken open by drunken officials searching for contraband. This incident embittered her mourning husband, who became an ardent Francophobe.
One of the founders of the 18th-century British landscape school, Thomas Gainsborough was also the creator of the so-called ‘fancy picture’, depicting rustic figures - usually children - posed in rural settings. Born in Suffolk, he studied in London from about 1739 to 1748 under the French painter and engraver Hubert Gravelot and the British painter Francis Hayman at the St Martin’s Lane Academy. Gainsborough returned to Suffolk in 1748, where he worked as a landscape and portrait painter until 1759, before moving to Bath. There he quickly developed into a much sought-after society painter. In 1774, he moved to London where he exhibited his work in his studio. He died in London in 1788.
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