The Honourable Mrs Graham by Thomas Gainsborough

Mary Cathcart (1757-1792) was born to the 9th Earl of Cathcart who was ambassador to Catherine the Great in Russia. Brought up in Russia she returned to England when she was 17 and married Thomas Graham, a Scottish aristocrat. Very much in love with Mary there is a story that when she forgot her jewellery on the way to a ball, Thomas made a 90 mile round trip on horseback to fetch it for her. She was considered a beauty of her day and was befriended by Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, while on holiday in Brighton.

She died young, at the age of 35, from tuberculosis and her husband was so grief-stricken that he had her portrait covered with a cloth and then gave it to her sister, as he could no longer bear to look at it. Mary is buried in the churchyard at Methven in Perthshire. This painting is considered to be one of Thomas Gainsborough’s finest full-length portraits and it was bequeathed to the National Galleries in Edinburgh on the understanding that it never leaves Scotland.

Thomas Gainsborough was born in Sudbury, Suffolk, England. The son of a weaver, his artistic skills were recognised early and he left to study art in London at the age of 13. His skills as a portrait artist moved him from Sudbury to Ipswich and then to Bath where his sitters were now authors, actors and members of high society.

In 1768 he was elected a founder member of the Royal Academy of Arts and moved to Pall Mall in London. He was a favourite of King George III and his wife Charlotte and was commissioned to paint their portrait. He had an uneasy relationship with the Royal Academy and eventually withdrew from them, preferring to hang his paintings in his own studio. Although he preferred to paint landscapes it is for his portraits that he is remembered including Mr and Mrs Andrews, Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire and of course the Honourable Mrs Graham.

You will find this portrait in Room X in the National Gallery of Edinburgh.

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