The Hon. Miss Monckton
Mezzotintpublished 1 January 1781
About the work
Place: British Embassy, UK representation to the EU & UK delegation to NATO
This print after an original by Joshua Reynolds, depicts the celebrated society hostess, Mary Monckton (1746-1840). Aged twenty-nine when her portrait was made, Monckton’s portrait which now hangs in Tate Britain, was presumably on display in her mother's house in Charles Street. It must have been a prominent decorative feature at Monckton's salons which were frequented by guests including author Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), politician and philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-97) and actress Sarah Siddons (1755-1831).
Reynolds recorded the sittings for this portrait in his pocket book with the first entry being made in March 1777. The sitter is shown in a general woody landscape. Wearing a silk gown and an embroidered scarf, Monckton adopts a pensive pose while leaning against a stone pedestal. A King Charles spaniel is resting at her feet.
A few years after this picture was painted, English novelist Fanny Burney described her as ‘between thirty and forty, very short, very fat, but handsome, splendidly and fantastically dressed, rouged not unbecomingly, yet evidently and palpably desirous of gaining notice and admiration. She has an easy levity in her air, manner, voice, and discourse.’
About the artist
Joshua Reynolds was the dominant artistic personality during the age of George III. He was born in Plympton, Devon. From 1750 to 1752 he studied the work of the Old Masters in Rome. Reynolds returned via Florence and Paris, and settled in London in 1753. In 1759 he painted a portrait of the future king, George, Prince of Wales (Royal Collection). After George’s accession the following year, Reynolds was dismayed to learn that Allan Ramsay had been made Principal Painter to the King. This marked the beginning of increasing hostility between Reynolds and the King. Nonetheless, by 1760 Reynolds had established himself as the leading portraitist. He became President of the Royal Academy in 1768 and was knighted the following year.