c 1769 Mezzotint - Mrs. Abington - Watson/Reynolds


A fine original mezzotint engraving of “MRS ABINGTON” after a painting by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Engraved by James Watson, published in London, 1769.

Frances Abington (1737-1815) was a popular English actress (shown here holding a mask), and leader of fashion. She drew “crowded houses” when she appeared.  In 1755, on the recommendation of Samuel Foote, she became a member of the Drury Lane company, where she was overshadowed by Hannah Pritchard and Kitty Clive. Her first success was in Ireland as Lady Townley (in The Provok'd Husband by Vanbrugh and Cibber), and it was only after five years, on the pressing invitation of David Garrick, that she returned to Drury Lane. In 1759, after an unhappy marriage to her music teacher James Abington, a royal trumpeter, she is mentioned in the bills as "Mrs Abington" and so she just kept his last name.She remained at the Drury Lane for eighteen years, being the first to play more than thirty important characters, notably Lady Teazle (1777).

Her Shakespearean heroines – Beatrice, Portia, Desdemona and Ophelia – were no less successful than her comic characters – Miss Hoyden, Biddy Tipkin, Lucy Lockit and Miss Prue. Mrs. Abington’s Kitty in "High Life Below Stairs" put her in the foremost rank of comic actresses, making the mob cap she wore in the role the reigning fashion“. This cap was soon referred to as the “Abington Cap” and frequently seen on stage as well as in hat shops across Ireland and England. Adoring fans donned copies of this cap and it became an essential part of the well-appointed woman’s wardrobe. The actress soon became known for her avant-garde fashion and she even came up with a way of making the female figure appear taller. She began to wear this tall-hat called a ziggurat complete with long flowing feathers and began to follow the French custom of putting red powder on her hair (Richards).

It was as the last character in Congreve's Love for Love that Sir Joshua Reynolds painted the best-known of his half-dozen or more portraits of her. In 1782 she left Drury Lane for Covent Garden. After an absence from the stage from 1790 until 1797, she reappeared, quitting it finally in 1799. Her ambition, personal wit and cleverness won her a distinguished position in society, in spite of her humble origin.

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) was an accomplished portrait painter. He studied in Italy in the 1750’s and upon returning to England “where he soon put all rivals at a distance, and in 1759 had 156 sitters…He was the greatest portrait-painter that England has produced…” (Concise Dictionary of National Biography).

James Watson (s. 1790) was an eminent Irish mezzotint engraver of portraits. Born in Dublin, he lived and worked in London. (Ref: Mackenzie, British Prints).

Plate size is approximately 24 1/2 x 15 inches.

Shipped unmatted.


  • Inventory# MA-389