Monday 2nd September 2024 to Monday 21st April 2025

Venue: Chawton House

 “Her name is Robinson, […] she is I believe almost the greatest and most perfect beauty of her sex.”

—Prince of Wales to Mary Hamilton, December 1779

“She is a woman of undoubted Genius […] I never knew a human Being with so full a mindbad, good, & indifferent, I grant you, but full, & overflowing.”

—Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Robert Southey, 25th January 1800

 

Mary Robinson: Actress, Mistress, Writer, Radical is the first exhibition dedicated to the scandalous life and literary genius of Mary Robinson.

A star of the London stage, she became notorious as a Royal mistress. From treading the boards of London’s theatres, to gracing the gossip columns of newspapers, Robinson pioneered celebrity status. She lit up the fashion world, sparking trends with her choice of outfit or carriage, and she went on to light up the literary world with novels, poems and essays. A talented poet, she developed her distinctive poetic style alongside some of the best-known writers of the day, and she honed her political ideas in the radical circle around William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Long remembered only for her relationship with the Prince of Wales (later George IV) – who fell in love with her on stage as Perdita in The Winter’s Tale – in recent decades Mary Robinson has been reclaimed as one of the most important and overlooked writers of the late 18th century. This exhibition will trace the extraordinary journey of her life and artistic development from the most famous woman in England to social outcast, exploring her hard-won second career as one of the most popular and influential writers of her day.

Rare and early editions of her writing – from the debut novel that sold out by lunchtime on the day it was published to her impassioned argument for women’s rights – are brought together with scant surviving manuscript material from collections and archives across the UK. These will be interpreted alongside the portraits, engravings and caricatures through which her image was circulated and her reputation both shaped and ruined. Her compelling biography enables reflections on the complexity of female celebrity and sexuality, at the time and in society today.

This exhibition was made possible with a grant from the Weston Loan Programme with Art Fund.

Included in admission price.