Mary Davis (c.1735–1825) rose from humble origins to marry the banker Alexander Nesbitt by 1762. She was apparently roundly unfaithful to her husband, who died insane and bankrupt in 1772. She then became the acknowledged mistress of the 3rd Earl of Bristol. Following his death in 1779, she benefited considerably from his will. The present picture, depicting Mrs. Nesbitt with the traditional symbol of Innocence, a dove (cf. Greuze P428), may have been intended to rehabilitate her reputation following the death of her protector. The 4th Marquess of Hertford bought the portrait, having seen it in a photograph. Despite his agent Samuel Mawson’s comment that ‘it is certainly not a first rate picture and all Your Lordships by that master/ are/ finer’, he wrote explaining that ‘I should like Mrs Nesbitt – Mrs Robinson & her will do well for Paris where I have no Sir Joshuas’.
Where to see this painting?
The Wallace Collection
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