Artworks
The Hon. Mrs. Thomas Graham
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gstecyk's picture

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Thomas Gainsborough’s most famous version of The Honourable Mrs. Graham was donated to the Scottish National Gallery under the ominous condition it never leave the country. 

But art-loving Yanks despair not: this less formal half-length portrait hangs in our National Gallery stateside.

Nicknamed “The Beautiful Mrs. Graham” by her contemporaries, Mary Graham was rumored to have had a lesbian affair with the notorious 18th-century party girl Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, but also had a true love match with her husband Thomas Graham. 

Mary died tragically in France, where French Revolutionaries desecrated her corpse.  After the incident Thomas could never stand to look at the paintings again. The lovesick man wore his wedding ring for the rest of his life and preserved the last dress she had worn before she died.

Gainsborough himself was romantically obsessed with Mary and painted four known versions of her portrait.  Mary’s ill health prevented her from sitting for long hours, so these likenesses were born primarily of his own pervy middle-aged imagination as he fantasized about the married teen (Mary was 19 to Gainsborough’s fifty-ish).  To prove to a critic that Mary’s beauty came from herself and not from her rich costume, Gainsborough also painted her as a virginal young servant girl…making her the original inspiration for the French maid fetish.