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Margaret (Peg) Woffington (1720-1760)


Artist: Gervase Spencer

Signed with initials and dated 1749, set in the original gold frame with bright-cut border, the reverse with blue glass within plaited hair border tied with gold buckle

Woffington was born of humble origins in Dublin. Her father is thought to have been a bricklayer, and after his death, the family became impoverished. Her mother was obliged to take in washing while Peg sold watercress door to door.

She danced and acted at various Dublin theatres until her success as Sir Harry Wildair in The Constant Couple led to her being given her London debut at Covent Garden; she became well known as an actress thereafter.

She lived openly with David Garrick, the foremost actor of the day, and her other love affairs (including liaisons with Edward Bligh, 2nd Earl of Darnley and MP Charles Hanbury Williams) were numerous and notorious. She became friend and mentor to the socialite/actress sisters, Elizabeth and Maria Gunning.

For whatever reason, Woffington left Garrick in about 1744 and moved to Teddington, into a house called Teddington Place. In 1754 she became the beneficiary of the will of the Irish impresario Owen Swiny. In 1756, she performed the part of Lady Randolph in Douglas, a part which found a later exponent in Sarah Siddons.

Spencer was a self-taught artist of remarkable talents. Starting his professional life as a servant, Spencer received permission to copy the miniatures in the house in which he worked. By 1740, he was established in a studio in Great Marlborough Street, catering to London's beau monde. Lady Mary Wortley Montague, the Duke of St. Albans, and as is evident here even Peg Woffington flocked to him.
More Information
Year                 1749
Literature                 The Comerford Collection: Portrait Miniatures, (Dublin, privately published, 2009) pp. 10, 46 (#186) 68 (sitter # 50)
Exhibition                 Comerford Collection at the Irish Architectural Archives in Dublin, in 2009
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