Catalogue entry


Oil on canvas, 30 1/2 × 25 3/16 (76.5 × 63.9)
Bequeathed by Sir Edward Stern to the National Gallery, with life interest to his widow, 1933. Transferred to the Tate Gallery 1979
Prov: Painted presumably for the sitter, and probably passed into the collection of the Earls of Erroll through Elizabeth, the sitter's natural daughter by the Duke of Clarence, who married the 18th Earl of Erroll in 1820, and died in 1856. Purchased from the Earl of Erroll at an unspecified date by Colnaghi's; with Agnew & Son 1899; purchased by Sir Edward Stern 1900.
Exh: R.A. 1791 (440); Agnew & Son 1899 (6); International Exhibition, Paris 1900 (41, illustrated p.89 in I. Spielmann's catalogue of pictures in the British Royal Pavilion); Burlington Fine Arts Club 1902 (50); Loan Collection of Portraits, Birmingham 1903 (11, repr. in cat.); Inaugural Exhibition, Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle 1904 (52); Georgian England, Whitechapel Gallery 1906 (Upper Gallery, no. 139); Japan - British Exhibition, White City, 1910 (32); British Art 1000–1860, R.A. 1934 (434, No.294 in Memorial Catalogue).
Lit: The Farington Diary (ed. Greig), 1922, I, p.39 and VIII, p.279; H.P.K. Skipton, John Hoppner, 1905, p.57, repr. f. p.36; W. McKay and W. Roberts, John Hoppner R.A., 1909, p.141; W.J. Lawrence, ‘Portraits of Mrs Jordan’ in Connoisseur, XXVI, 1910, p.143 ff., John Jones mezzotint repr. as frontispiece; Freeman O'Donoghue, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits, British Museum, 1910, II, p.662; Martin Davies, National Gallery Catalogues, The British School, 1946, p.84.

Dorothea Bland (1762–1816), later known as Mrs Jordan, came from an Irish acting family, and began to make her mark on the London stage from 1785 onwards. She specialised in ‘breeches’ and comedy parts, performing chiefly at Drury Lane, although she frequently toured the provinces. Her role as Hypolita in Colley Cibber's ‘She would and she would not’, where the heroine follows her lover to Madrid disguised as a young gentleman of fashion and wears male attire throughout the five acts, was one of her great success. The performance was so popular in Edinburgh and Glasgow in 1786 that medals were struck in her honour, and she performed the part many times at Drury Lane between 1789 and 1809. In 1790 Mrs Jordan became the mistress of the Duke of Clarence, later William IV, a liaison which lasted until 1811 and produced ten children, all of whom achieved splendid careers and marriages.

Mrs Jordan was painted by most leading portrait painters of the day, including several times by Hoppner. His earliest known portrait of her is as ‘The Comic Muse’, shown at the R.A. 1786 (now in the Royal Collection). He was also one of the favourite painters of the Royal family from 1785 onwards, and in 1790-about the date this picture was painted - he spent a week with the Duke of Clarence and Mrs Jordan at Petersham (Farington, op. cit.). Whether he painted this portrait at this particular time is not known, but he was presumably working on the state portrait of the Duke which he also exhibited at the R.A. in 1791. Hoppner does not seem to have brought out Mrs Jordan's renowned vivacity, as Farington records that on this occasion Hoppner remarked that ‘Mrs Jordan affords very little entertainment in Company. Her thoughts seem to be engaged abt. something not present. Very ignorant as to information, excepting in what relates merely to the stage’. Nevertheless, this is one of the most vivid female portraits from Hoppner's hand. The engraving in mezzotint after it by John Jones was published 1 March 1791.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1978-80: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1981