|Thomas Gainsborough, The Honourable Mrs. Graham, 1775-7|
Like many great paintings, elements of mystery surround Mary's portrait. She sat for the portrait when she returned from her honeymoon. Many accounts do not refer to Mary showing the symptoms of tuberculosis, the disease which would plague and kill her and her family, yet she was reportedly too weak to sit long for Gainsborough. Mary is shown wearing an ornate masquerade dress of pink and silver in the Van Dyck style. A jaunty plumed hat is perched on Mary's high tower of hair. The fantastic outfit dazzled viewers and was made even more impressive by the fact that it was purely a figment of Gainsborough's imagination. Mary never owned the dress and supposedly her family was upset with her being portrayed in such a harlot-y sort of outfit. Strangely I have never personally found any thoughts Mary or her husband, Thomas had on the painting which was raved about when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy.
Mary succumbed to consumption in 1792 leaving a devastated husband wrought with grief. Thomas could not even bring himself to return to the homes he once shared with his wife. You might imagine the effect that seeing the celebrated portrait would have on him. Some accounts say that bricks were laid over the hanging portrait where it remained until it was found during renovations. Most accounts tell of Thomas hiding it in storage in London. Storage is where it remained until after Thomas' death.
In 1843 Thomas' cousin, Robert Graham received a message about his deceased cousin's paintings still being in the warehouse. He accepting the paintings not even knowing if they were worth the storage fee he had to pay for them. Robert had the enthusiasm of a child on Christmas morning and intercepted the delivery cart on Dalcrue bridge and immediately began opening the crates of paintings. Robert felt as if he was seeing a ghost when he drew out Mary's portrait which had been hidden away for fifty years.
In 1859 Robert bequeathed Mary's portrait to the National Gallery of Scotland on the condition that it never leaves the walls of the museum. He felt that the portrait should never again be housed in darkness and should be regarded as one of Scotland's national treasures. Visitors to the National Gallery may just feel that way upon being welcomed to museum by the elegant Mary Graham.
Side-Note: There will be a lecture on Thomas Graham at the National Gallery of Scotland on May 17. Details here.