Historical biography Uncategorised

Mlle Parisot’s portraits


The tale of Mlle Parisot’s London reception holds two further images to consider. The featured image is a portrait drawn by Arthur William Devis (1762-1822). Depicting her in the guise of Hebe, goddess of Youth, it is a tribute to Parisot’s grace and elegance; although the beauty of her figure is evident, the painter appears to celebrate rather than exploit the dancer. A contemporary report, however, could not refrain from alluding to Parisot’s disreputable entourage:

Devis is engaged upon a Portrait of the beautiful PARISOT. It is to be a whole length, and there is already an active competition between old Q. [Lord Queensbury] and Lord G[rosvenor] who shall be the happy possessor.

True Briton, 10 June 1796

The nudge and wink of the newspaper notice may also point to a scheme to finance the portrait, which as a full-length image would normally be commissioned by a funder with deep pockets. Is it likely that an auction was intended to sell the original image? We can safely assume that Parisot herself did not commission it: her salary at 300 guineas per annum would not stretch to such luxuries and she was also reputedly supporting her mother and sister in France.1) And yet we can understand why she might want to encourage such an enterprise: Gillray’s satirical print of May 1796 – in which she appears as a saucy nymph encouraging the attentions of the married Didelot – would have been very damaging to her personal reputation. A serious portrait and its subsequent engravings could promote her on more flattering terms. For Devis, an artist who has recently returned from India, this project may have been imagined as a means to establish himself in a crowded London market. The connection to engraver and publisher John Raphael Smith (1751-1812) would have been particularly welcome, for the older artist was highly regarded in his trade, with a very successful publishing business. While Smith’s role implies an anticipation that the engravings of this prominent stage performer would sell well, finding a buyer for the original portrait would have been a bit of a gamble: the nearest precedent we have in the London art market of the period is the 1782 full-length portrait of Giovanna Baccelli by Thomas Gainsborough — but Baccelli was at that time living with John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, who commissioned or paid for at least two further portraits and a sculpture of that dancer during the course of their relationship. Parisot, according to the press of her day, stoutly discouraged the attentions of her elderly admirers so they lacked a lover’s genuine interest in commissioning the portrait. Grosvenor was in fact an avid art collector, but a surviving catalogue of his collection does not list any images of Parisot.2) Queensbury was better known for his interest in women and horses, and the extent of his art collection (if any) is currently unknown.

‘Mademoiselle Parisot’, Charles Turner after J.J. Masquerier, copyright Victoria and Albert Museum.

The racier image above, drawn by John James Masquerier, is a curious affair. According to the National Portrait Gallery, “John Masquerier was an accomplished portraitist who enjoyed a wide practice among the intellectual and artistic communities at the turn of the nineteenth century.” The bare bosom seems a direct reference to Parisot’s stage costumes rather than an inevitable feature of Masquerier’s style. (For comparison see his more respectful portraits of Emma, Lady Hamilton, or the actress/singer Rosoman Mountain, née Wilkinson.) Parisot’s bared teeth further suggests an intended salaciousness; it is difficult to credit that she would have willingly posed in this manner. Indeed, the portrait does not demonstrate the level of finish we find in the studio works by Masquerier, and it is plausible to speculate that he took a sketch of Parisot at the theatre, and when committing it to paint freely assigned a costume and facial expression that would maximise its commercial appeal amongst a certain clientele.

Parisot’s exploitation (this is a more apt word than ‘promotion’) in the visual arts is aptly conveyed by the image below, which conveys details of the bust portion of caricatures and portraits of herself and other female contemporaries as discussed in the blogs on this dancer. The Devis portrait suggests her artistic legacy; the remaining images tell us something of the times in which she lived.

  1. For Parisot’s salary, see the True Briton [1793], 21 Mar. 1796; for her family situation, see “News.” Oracle, 18 Aug. 1796. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection, Gale. Accessed 21 Sept. 2021.

2. Westminster, R. Grosvenor., Young, J. (1820). A catalogue of the pictures at Grosvenor house, London: with etchings from the whole collection. London: Pub. by the proprietor.


Devis, Arthur William (artist) and John Smith (engraver). 1797. “Mdlle. Parisot.” London. Harry Beard Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum. Accessed 21 April 2021. 

Masquerier, John James (artist) and Charles Turner (engraver). 1799. “Mademoiselle Parisot.” [London}: C. Turner. Harry Beard Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum. Accessed 21 April 2021. 

Next post

Emilie Bigottini will be the subject of the next post (March 2022).

Historical biography Uncategorised

Body on Show: Mlle Rose Parisot part 1

Sarah McCleave

Mlle Rose Parisot (1777?-after 1837) was a young French dancer whose reception in London is well documented in the contemporary press, and also through satirical prints as well as two portraits. From her King’s Theatre début in February 1796 she attracted attention for her looks and the physicality of her movement, as this Morning Chronicle review (10 Feb. 1796) reveals:

Madamoiselle PARISOT, a new dancer from Paris … is a most beautiful figure, about 18 years of age, and with a face full of expression. A little divertissement has been got up to introduce her to the public, and she displayed powers in the grand character extremely striking. Her attitudes are graceful, her step firm, her balance is positively magical, for her person was almost horizontal while turning as on a pivot on her toe. From the specimen of last night, she is a great acquisition to the Theatre; and if her talent for acting be equal to her dancing and figure, they will be able to give us ballets in good style.

Parisot had previously served as première danseuse in Rouen and had also danced in Paris (2). Press reports in London suggest that she was obliged to become professional through the events of the French Revolution (3), further indicating that she supported her mother and a sister. There’s no sense, however, that she enjoyed any familial protection, or indeed that she had any valuable guidance or support during what would prove to be a turbulent career for this young foreign dancer. The Morning Chronicle review touches on two issues that would dominate her reception: her beautiful figure, and the unusual attitude she introduced to the London stage. Towards the end of her first London season we are told ‘Parisot, the beautiful Parisot, captivates, by her curvets and her attitudes, all the hearts in Fop’s Alley’ (4). Her winning combination of curves and poses stimulated strong responses from a certain kind of theatre spectator.

Richard Newton, Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

This blog post reproduces two satirical prints of Parisot’s spectators (5). Above we have Newman’s print, which shows Parisot being ogled by the then 72-year-old William Douglas, 4th Duke of Queensberry. It’s likely the cleric pictured is Shute Barrington, Bishop of Durham, who openly censored the immorality of current stage practices. Below we have Isaac Cruickshank’s ‘A Peep at the Parisot – with Q in the Corner’. So once again the faithful Duke of Queensbury – an inveterate gambler popularly known as ‘Old Q’ – is in attendance. As the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser (5 May 1796) reported, ‘the Duke of QUEENSBERRY looks not at any other garter than that appertaining to the enchanting leg of PARISOT’. The experienced satirist Cruickshank focuses on those enchanting legs, the outline of which can be appreciated underneath Parisot’s costume. By drawing the opening in her skirt – a detail we don’t have in the Newman – Cruickshank brings a greater immediacy to the scenario. We apprehend the young dancer’s level of exposure without seeing beneath the skirt ourselves.

Isaac Cruikshank, © Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

While the furore that Parisot’s attitudes caused was a lively enough introduction to the London theatre scene, she had to cope with an even more significant scandal the following season.

To be continued.


1) ‘Arts and Culture.’ Morning Chronicle [1770], 10 Feb. 1796. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection, Gale Primary Resources, accessed 26 Sept. 2021.

2) The Biographical Dictionary of Actors indicates Parisot’s pre-London experience; for a most interesting blog that includes some detail about her press coverage from the age of 14, see Naomi Clifford, ‘Mademoiselle Parisot’s shocking pirouettes put London in a spin’, in Books and Talks (blog), 10 Sept. 2018., accessed 26 Sept. 2021.

3) ‘News.’ Oracle, 18 Aug. 1796. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection, Gale Primary Resources, accessed 26 Sept. 2021.

4) ‘News.’ Sun, 9 June 1796. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Burney Newspapers Collection, Gale Primary Resources, accessed 26 Sept. 2021.

5) For further on these men, and the notion that they are the object of the satire rather than the dancer, see Caitlyn Lehmann, ‘Madame Rose Parisot, “Attitudinarian”‘, in vintage pointe (blog), no date., accessed 26 September 2021.


  1. Richard Newton. 1796. ‘Madamoiselle Parisot.’ London: William Holland. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Accessed 21 April 2021. 
  2. Issac Cruikshank (artist). 1796. ‘A Peep at the Parisot with Q in the Corner.’ London: S.W. Fores. Accessed 21 April 2021.

Next Post

“Three’s a Crowd,” a continuation of the account of Mlle. Parisot’s London reception, will appear on 10 October.