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Dorothy Jordan (1761–1816), affectionately known as Dora or Mrs Jordan, was one of London’s leading comic actresses. In this portrait, she plays Viola from Shakespeare’s ‘Twelfth Night’, a role she had played at Drury Lane in November 1785. Hoppner depicts her in character, disguised as page boy Cesario, wearing men’s costume. Mrs Jordan was renowned for playing crossdressing roles, known as ‘breeches parts’.
Dora had changed her name to Mrs Jordan after fleeing Ireland after falling pregnant by her manager Richard Daly. Her new theatre manager in Leeds made a comparison between Dora’s escape from Daly across the Irish sea to the biblical story of the passing of the River Jordan – from oppression to freedom. Being visibly pregnant, it was also suggested she use Mrs Jordan, to avoid attracting gossip.
Throughout her successful acting career Dora continued to raise a large family of 14 children. Aside from the daughter fathered by the Dublin theatre manager, she bore 3 children by Richard Ford, proprietor of Drury Lane Theatre, and a further 10 children with the Duke of Clarence.
The son of German émigrés, John Hoppner a benefited from close associations with the Hanoverian court, where both his parents were employed. As a boy, he had trained as a chorister in the Chapel Royal, St James Palace and was later granted an allowance to complete his artistic training at the Royal Academy. He was good friends with Mrs Jordan and the Duke of Clarence – both of whom were godparents to his daughter. This is one of the five portraits of Mrs Jordan painted by Hoppner.
Mrs Jordan as Viola in 'Twelfth Night'
oil on canvas
H 90.2 x W 69.8 cm
Iveagh Bequest, 1929