There are very few portraits of Mary Shelley, born Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin on this day, August 30, in 1797. Sadly, she never sat for a photographer, though the technology was available over the last decade of her life.
The two paintings above were done from actual sittings, twenty years apart. Most other known portraits, in oils or pen, were made after Mary's death, based on earlier sketches or descriptions by her son, Percy Florence.
Samuel John Stump’s portrait from 1820 shows a young Mary at her writing desk. She smiles shyly, lost in thought, fiddling with a locket. Stump was best known for his portraits of stage celebrities, and a series of famous landscapes.
The 1840 painting is by her friend, Irish-born Richard Rothwell who, for a time, was considered the finest portraitist in Britain. Mary appears with big brown eyes and luminous skin on a field of dark colors, a striking image of a refined and melancholic lady.
Both works come together brilliantly as inspiration for David Levine's caricature, published in the March 21, 1974 issue of The New York Review of Books. Levine, who passed away in 2009, was one of America’s finest artists, a master of pen and ink likenesses and editorial cartoon commentary.