The Hon. Theresa Robinson, Mrs John Parker (1745-1775)
Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792)
Art / Oil paintings
1770 - 1772
Oil on canvas
2337 x 1422 mm (92 x 56 in)Order this image
Saltram, Devon (Accredited Museum)
This is a tender full-length portrait in a landscape of Theresa, the second wife of John Parker (1734/5-1788) (created Lord Boringdon in 1784, after her death), a regular patron and friend of the artist. His mother is reputed to have given Reynolds, born only four miles from Saltram, his first pencil. Reynolds depicts Theresa in profile, an austere presentation often used for funerary images. This was an uncanny choice as Theresa died three years after the portrait was completed. Theresa was loved and admired for her good nature and taste, not least by Reynolds who was very fond of her and wrote her obituary. Of this portrait, she wrote: 'Mr Parker says I am drawn feeling my pulse; it may not be the less like for that, as I am apt to do so'.
Oil painting on canvas, The Hon. Theresa Robinson, Mrs John Parker (1744/5-1775) by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792), bottom left: Theresa Dr. of Ld. Grantham/& Wife of Jn°.. Ld. Boringdon. A full-length portrait of Mrs Parker, standing on the left in a wooded landscape. Her face is in profile and her right arm is resting on a pedestal, on which there is a vase and her left hand rests across her right forearm as if feeling her pulse.
Reynolds was born only four miles from Saltram. His mother was befriended by Lady Catherine (Poulett) Parker, who is reported to have given Reynolds and his sisters their very first pencil . Lady Catherine's eldest son, John Parker (1734/5-1788), MP, created 1st Baron Boringdon in 1784, became and remained Reynolds's friend throughout his life. He was: "the man whose name occurs oftenest in his list of engagements, his entertainer often two or three times a week in town, and his frequent host in his visits to Devonshire" . Not only did Reynolds paint him twice, once in a small whole-length almost unique in his oeuvre, the other time half-length, in the dress of the Woburn Hunt , but he also painted his brother , his wife twice , his two children , and a number of his friends , and - apparently for him - the engraver Francesco Bartolozzi . He also advised Parker on his collection, selling him the reputed Guercino of the Madonna and Child with the Infant John that had been engraved by Boydell when in his own collection , and probably the Lubin Baugin (then attributed to Baroccio) that is framed and hung as a pendant to it. Angelica Kauffman no doubt formed a third in this friendship, painting both a portrait of Reynolds that ended up with Parker and seven subject pictures; but she stood in no need of an introduction to Parker from Reynolds, since Parker had earlier had himself painted by her in 1764 in Rome or Naples, where his first wife, Frances Hort, had died in that very year . He married his second wife, the subject of this, one of the tenderest of Reynolds's adult portraits, in May 1769. She was the second daughter of the diplomat and minister Thomas Robinson (1695-1770), created Baron Grantham in 1761, by Frances Worsley of Hovingham. Her first sittings for this portrait were less than a year after her marriage, in April 1770, but another was not recorded until February 1772. By 12th March she was writing to her brother, Frederick Robinson: "I am going to Sir Joshua's this morning, the last sitting for a full length .... Sir Thomas Parker [i.e. the whole-length by Gheeraerts] wants a companion so much in the Great Room at Saltram, that it could not be delayed another year ...." - for Robert Adam's new Saloon, in which it was to hang, had been carpeted in 1770 and supplied with its remaining furniture in 1771. Yet the picture had still not been sent down by the autumn; no doubt because Reynolds, having missed that year's exhibition at the Royal Academy, was determined both that it should be in the next year's showing, and that it should be engraved. On 20th October the sitter wrote to her eldest brother, Thomas, Lord Grantham, then Ambassador in Madrid: "My picture is not actually at Saltram. Sir Joshua is very lazy. When it comes I will endeavour by some means or other to give you a little notion of it. Mr. Parker says I am drawn feeling my pulse: it may not be the less like for that, as I am apt to do so" There is a terrible poignancy in these last words, for even if Reynolds, in showing her thus, was consciously or unconsciously echoing an action already employed by Kneller in his portrait of Margaret Cocks, Countess of Hardwicke of 1716, which he may have known from the prime version then at Wimpole (private collection, UK), or from one of the repetitions or studio copies now at Antony and Hatfield , he also prefigured her early death by what sounds like a succession of strokes . Despite her mild exasperation over Reynolds's dilatoriness, he evidently came to treasure her as much as he did her husband. It seems to have been he who wrote the anonymous obituary in The Gentleman's Magazine, which included in its eulogy these words: "Her amiable disposition, her softness and gentleness of manners, endeared her to every one that had the happiness of knowing her. Her whole pleasure and ambition were centred in a consciousness of properly discharging all the duties of a wife, a mother, and a sister; and she neither sought for nor expected fame out of her own house .... Her virtues were uniform, quiet, and habitual .... Her person was eminently beautiful; but the expression of her countenance was far above all beauty that proceeds from regularity of features only. The gentleness and benevolence of her disposition were so naturally impressed on every look and motion, that, without any affected effort or assumed courtesy, she was sure to make every one her friend that had ever spoke to her, or even seen her" . It is one of the singular virtues of the portrait that it manages to convey some notion of this sweetness of character whilst showing the sitter in profile, which is not only one of the austerest forms of presentation, but also one frequently used for funerary images. One other curious detail attaches to this picture. There is no record of it in Reynolds's ledger-books. Not because it was (so far as we know) painted gratis for a friend, but because the first page for the letter 'P', that would have recorded any payments, is missing. This is not, however, as Graves & Cronin would have it, because that page was torn out by Reynolds's niece, Theophila Gwatkin, in 1844, and sent to Benjamin Robert Haydon to refute Sir Martin Archer Shee's assertion that no such ledger-book existed. That is a confusion with Mrs Gwatkin's tearing out and loan to Haydon of a page of Reynolds's secret memoranda of his painting practices, for the same purpose . Notes: (i) C.R. Leslie & T. Taylor, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1865, vol.I, p.9. (ii) ibid., vol.II, p.440. (iii) Graves & Cronin, vol.II, pp.726-27; St. John Gore, in The Saltram Collection, The National Trust, 1967, No.30, pp.21-22 & pl. IIb, and No.119. (iv) Graves and Cronin, II.732; Gore, No.13. (v) The present picture; and with her son: Graves & Cronin,II.729-30; Gore, No.6. (vi) Graves and Cronin, II.730-31; Gore, No.18; exh. cat. Reynolds, The Royal Academy, London, 1986, cat.111, p.283 & col. pl.). (vii) Gore, Nos. 64, 66, 120, 121, 122 & 125: not all of these are prime versions. (viii) Graves & Cronin, I.59; Gore; No.22. (ix) Gore, No.12. (x) Gore, 1967, No.108, unjustifiably doubting the inscribed date; Angelica Kauffman, ed. Wendy W. Roworth, Brighton, 1992, p.18 & fig.2. (xi) Gore, 1967, p.32. (xii) Graves & Cronin, II.729. (xiii) J. Douglas Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller, Oxford, 1983, No.343, p.109 & pl.78. (xiv) The Gentleman's Magazine, vol.XLVI, 1 February 1776, p.75. (xv) Ibid. (xvi) The Diary of Benjamin Robert Haydon, ed. W.B. Pope, Harvard, 1963, pp.573 & 579. (adapted from author's version/pre-publication, Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995)
Accepted by the Treasury in part payment of death-duties from the executors of Edmund Robert Parker, 4th Earl of Morley (1877-1951) and transferred on loan for a term of 50 years to NT in 1957.
Marks and inscriptions
Recto: bottom left: Theresa Dr. of Ld. Grantham/& Wife of Jn°.. Ld. Boringdon
Makers and roles
Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792), artist
In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.7
Graves and Cronin 1899-1901 Algernon Graves and W.V.Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 4 vols, London 1899-1901, vol.II, pp.728—9 Waterhouse 1941 Ellis K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, London, 1941, p.63 Saltram, Devon, 1998: [National Trust;Ceri Johnson; Alastair Laing], 1998, p. 16, illus p.44, no. 62 Saltram, Devon, 1967 The Saltram Collection, Plympton, Devon [National Trust; F. St. John Gore], 1967, p.32; 1977, pp.35-36. Plate 11a In Trust for the Nation: Paintings from National Trust Houses (exh cat) (Alastair Laing) The National Gallery, London, 22 November 1995 - 10 March 1996, no. 7, p.30 Waterhouse 1973: Ellis K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, London, 1973 , p. 63