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An unconventional woman


Mary Edwards by Hogarth.
The Frick, New York

One of my favourite paintings is Hogarth's painting of Mary Edwards.

It is very different from most of his work, since it is a beautiful portrait. It is not at all satirical, though Mary looks as if she is quietly amused.

Mary was independently rich and an independent thinker. When her dissipated husband tried to take advantage of her fortune, she had the marriage dissolved. However, she spared no expense to educate their son.

She was Hogarth's friend and arts patron, and had been since at least 1733, when he painted her young son bouncing in a cradle.

It is said that Mary's eccentricities of behaviour and dress amused London society so she had Hogarth paint her with busts of Alfred and Elizabeth I and a stirring scroll as a riposte.

She is sitting by the half-opened scroll and patting a dog whose eager look makes me think she took him on long walks. I like her intelligent eyes and smiling lips. I imagine she loved the words on her scroll, which reads:

Remember, Englishmen, the Laws and the Rights. The generous plan of Power delivered down From age to age by your renown’ed Forefathers. . . Do thou, great Liberty, inspire their Souls!

Liberty, inspire their Souls!

Poignantly Mary died at thirty-eight, a year after Hogarth painted her.

By then she had flashed her message to posterity.

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