Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Peg Woffington (1718-60), 1740s 

John Eccardt 

Portrait of Peg Woffington (1718-60), 1740s, John Eccardt
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
36 x 28 in (91.5 x 71 cm)
Right Hon. William Earl of Lonsdale Earl of Lonsdale Estate sale, Christie’s , London, June 13, 1887, lot 799 (as by William Hogarth) where purchased by Harvey Augustin Daly Augustin Daly sale, American Art Ass
&E. Bénézit, Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire des Peintres, Scupiteurs, Dessinateurs et Graveurs, Libraire Grund, 1976, p. 582 (as by William Hogarth) Geoffrey Ashton, Catalogue of Paintings at the Theatre Museum, London, published by Victoria Albert Museum, 1992, p.11
Margaret (Peg) Woffinton was a celebrated actress born in Dublin in 1718, the daughter of an itinerant bricklayer. She joined Mme. Volante’s Lilliputians at the age of twelve. Her first role was Polly Peachum in The Beggar ‘s Opera. The company was sent to London in 1732 where her roles included Captain Macheath in the same opera. She was still part of the company at the opening of the new Dublin Theatre Royal in March 1734. Her repertory grew to include such roles as Phyllis in Conscious Lovers, the lead in The Female Officer, Silvia in The Recruiting Officer and Harry Wildair in The Constant Couple. In May 1740, she went to London and opened at Convent Garden on November 6th as SiIvia, but it was her roles in which she wore britches, such as Harry Wildair, that made her a huge success with the London audience. Her acclaim was such that thereafter no male actor was deemed acceptable in the role of Hany Wildair. The following year she was at Drury Lane Theater playing Nerissa in Merchant of Venice, Rosalind in As You Like It, and Helena in Ails Well That Ends Well, among others. She also played opposite David Garrick as Cordelia in King Lear, which began a long and successful stage collaboration. At the end of the 1742 season she left with Garrick for Dublin and spent the summer at the Smock Alley Theatre. It is believed that they had a passionate affair and shared a house upon their return to London.

Although regarded as “the handsomest woman that ever appeared on the stage,” Peg Woffington was extremely jealous of her rivals. In 1756 while performing Roxana with her rival, Mrs. Bellamy as Statira, Peg basically drove her offstage and stabbed her almost in sight of the audience.

She was popular throughout society. Her love affairs were legendary and numerous, always preferring the company of men to women. After a successful performance of Hany Wildair, she said to fellow actor James Quin, “I have played the part so often that half the town believes me to be a real man,” to which Quin replied, “Madam the other half knows you to be a woman.”

Peg Woffington dominated the Irish stage from 1751 — 1757 with such roles as Portia, Ophelia, Rosalind, Calista in The Fair Penitent and Hermione in The Distrest Mother. She gave her last performance as Rosalind on May 17, 1757. She died on March 26, 1760 after a long illness.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.