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From the Collection–Miss Grace Ashburner by George Romney

George Romney (English, 1734–1802), Miss Grace Ashburner, 1792. Oil on canvas. 30 1/8 × 25 1/8 in. (76.52 × 63.82 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection Inc., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur N. McGeoch, Sr. L1941.9. Photo credit: John R. Glembin.
George Romney (English, 1734–1802), Miss Grace Ashburner, 1792. Oil on canvas. 30 1/8 × 25 1/8 in. (76.52 × 63.82 cm). Milwaukee Art Museum, Layton Art Collection Inc., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Arthur N. McGeoch, Sr. L1941.9. Photo credit: John R. Glembin.

What do you notice first about Miss Grace Ashburner? Maybe her porcelain-white skin highlighted by pink cheeks? Her fashionably powered hair decorated by a shiny blue ribbon? Or maybe her smart green coat with bright brass buttons?

This portrait of Grace, painted by fashionable English portraitist George Romney (1734-1802), shows her wistfully gazing off in the distance. In 1792, the year of the painting, Grace would have turned 18. She is certainly the epitome of a lovely young lady of late eighteenth century England.

Would it surprise you to learn that, just five years later, Grace was involved in a love triangle that resulted in a scandalous trial?

Details of Grace’s life come alive through some primary resources. The story first broke in a number of English newspapers in late June 1797. Notices appear all over the county, from Kent southeast of London, to Chester near Liverpool, to Norfolk on the east coast, to Staffordshire in the Midlands. It even made the newspapers in Ireland. Then, when the civil jury trial happened in September, more newspapers took up the story. There even exists a pamphlet that captures all of the details. It sold for twopence and had as its title: