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  • Theatre-going was an immensely popular and fashionable leisure activity in eighteenth-century Britain, and from the 1760s this passionate engagement with the dramatic arts was reflected in the enormous output of theatrical portraits, which were widely disseminated through engravings. The multi talented actor-manager and theatre proprietor David Garrick astutely recognized the value of portraits for promoting individual actors and productions, and he played a leading role in the development of the theatrical conversation piece. John Downman's drawing portrays John Edwin and Mary Wells in their roles as Lingo and Cowslip in John O'Keeffe's three-act comedy, The Agreeable Surprise. The play was immensely successful, and between its opening at the Haymarket Theatre, London, in 1781 and 1800 it was performed more than 200 times. The comic actor John Edwin (1749-90) made his first professional appearance in 1775 and was most famous for his role as Lingo. Edwin was as celebrated for his singing as his acting; according to the manager-playwright, George Colman, "While he sung in a style which produced roars of laughter, there was a melody in some of the upper tones of his voice that was beautiful." The inscription on the original frame is somewhat misleading, since at least eighteen engraved portraits of Edwin after various artists are known. Mary Wells, née Davies (c. 1759-before 1826), was born in Birmingham and preformed in regional theaters before making her London acting debut in 1781. Constantly in debt and involved in amorous intrigue, the raffish actress conformed to the popular notion of her profession as dissolute and unrespectable, an image which the many portraits of Garrick - who assiduously cultivated himself as a model of social propriety - strove to contradict.
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  • Bibliograpic reference ::
  • Bibliograpic reference :: Sarah Murden, The Life of Actress, Mary Wells, https://georgianera.wordpress.com/2018/02/22/the-life-of-actress-mary-wells/, All Things Georgian, February 22, 2018, Available Online
  • Component of series :: The Agreeable Surprise
  • Dimension height :: 41.4cm
  • Dimension width :: 32.0cm
  • Exhibition :: English Portrait Drawings & Miniatures
  • Exhibition :: The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century
  • Located in :: New Haven
  • Located in :: Not on view
  • Located in :: YCBA, 222, C 2, D- 6
  • Located in :: Yale Center for British Art
  • Object type :: drawing
  • Object type :: watercolor
  • Subject Concept :: actor
  • Subject Concept :: actress
  • Subject Concept :: bowl
  • Subject Concept :: coat
  • Subject Concept :: cravat
  • Subject Concept :: curls
  • Subject Concept :: gesture
  • Subject Concept :: gown
  • Subject Concept :: hat
  • Subject Concept :: literary theme
  • Subject Concept :: man
  • Subject Concept :: ribbons
  • Subject Concept :: ruffles
  • Subject Concept :: sea
  • Subject Concept :: theater (discipline)
  • Subject Concept :: wig
  • Subject Concept :: woman
  • Subject Object :: The Agreeable Surprise, play by John O'Keeffe, 1781
  • Subject Object :: play
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  • ...
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  • Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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?:label
  • John Edwin and Mrs. Mary Wells as Lingo and Cowslip in "The Agreeable Surprise"
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