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Mary Anne Clarke (née Thompson) (1776 – 1852)

Mary Anne Clarke (née Thompson) (1776 - 1852)
By Lawrence Gahagan (1756 - 1820)
Marble 1811

From 1803 to 1809 Mary Anne Clarke was mistress to Frederick, Duke of York.  Their affair turned into a political scandal when the Duke was charged with corruption for promoting officers from whom Clarke had taken bribes. Renouncing the Duke, Clarke wrote her own revealing memoirs and extracted huge pensions from the government to suppress them.


To help us visualise Mary Anne Clarke there are a small number of portraits, a number of cartoons, often lampooning her relationship with Frederick, Duke of York (1763 - 1827), and the beautiful marble bust by Irish sculptor Lawrence Gahagan.  The bust was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery in 1965, and you can see it displayed there in room number 17.  This room has the title Royalty, Celebrity and Scandal, so Mary Anne is very appropriately placed there.


Mary Anne commissioned Gahagan to sculpt the bust herself, and it is said to have stood in her house between portraits of the Duke of York and Colonel Wardle.  Those of you who have read Mary Anne, Daphne du Maurier’s novel based on the life of her great, great Grandmother, or any factual information about Mary Anne, will know how significant these two men were in the scandal that she caused.  In the sculpture Mary Anne appears to be rising through the petals of a sunflower.  This may have been chosen as an allegory of the cast-off mistress. It derives from a celebrated Roman bust, part of the Charles Towneley collection displayed at the British Museum from 1808, and then thought to represent Clytie, the deserted lover of Helios, who was changed into a sunflower so that she could follow her lover's progress across the sky each day.


We thank the National Portrait Gallery for their help with this information.


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