Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Mary Robinson as 'Perdita', 1795 

William Grimaldi (1751-1830)

Portrait miniature of Mary Robinson as 'Perdita', 1795, William Grimaldi
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Sir Joshua Reynolds (until his death in 1792)
Grimaldi, Alexander Beaufort, A Catalogue of the Works of William Grimaldi, 1873, no.57 or no.58 (the former listed by Grimaldi as painted ‘for himself’, the latter “for George IV” (no longer present in the Royal Collection)
Kings College , London, 1857 Ironmongers Company Fine Art Exhibition, 1861
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Grimaldi’s close relationship with the society oil painter Sir Joshua Reynolds gave him unrivalled access to Reynolds’ studio, where this miniature was painted in 1795. The original portrait of Mary Robinson was painted by Reynolds circa 1783-4, shortly after the actress suffered a streptococcal infection, resulting from a miscarriage which led to a severe rheumatic fever that left her disabled for the rest of her life. Although Robinson never owned the oil painting she admired it to the extent of engraving it to use as the frontispiece for many of her published works.

Two versions of this miniature are noted in Grimaldi’s accounts, one commissioned by the Prince of Wales (no longer listed in the Royal Collection), the other listed as ‘for myself’. The affair between Mary and the Prince had ended in 1781 and in 1795 he married Caroline of Brunswick. It seems unlikely, but not impossible, that he might commission a miniature of his former lover. In fact, Mannings notes that the portrait was ‘perhaps in the possession of the Prince of Wales’ prior to 1823. Out of the twelve portrait miniatures by Grimaldi in the Royal Collection, the majority were commissioned by the Prince of Wales.

William Grimaldi, Marquess Grimaldi in the Genoese nobility, was the son of Alexander Grimaldi, Marquess Grimaldi. He was apprenticed to his uncle, the artist (and miniaturist) Thomas Worlidge before setting up an independent practice and exhibiting publicly from about 1768. He travelled widely around Britain and then worked in Paris 1777-1783.

On his return to England he set up in London painting portrait miniatures and enamels, copying the paintings of Hoppner, Beechey, Reynolds, and others. It may have been through Reynolds that Grimaldi was introduced to the royal family, and he was subsequently appointed miniature painter to the duke and duchess of York (1791) , and to George IV when prince of Wales (1806) and king (1824). Although copies today are thought of as secondary to the original, in the case of artists such as Grimaldi their miniature interpretations were highly prized. Their purpose and appreciation were not confined to the skill of the copyist but they were highly regarded by the owners of the original oil and acted as a mutually useful tool for both artists. Reynolds saw great benefit in high-profile miniaturists publicising small versions of his oils, and in turn miniaturists benefited by association to the major society oil painters.

Grimaldi exhibited at the Royal Academy almost continuously from 1786 until his death, which occurred at his home, 16 Upper Ebury Street, Chelsea, London, on 27 May 1830.
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