Theresa Robinson was the daughter of John Parker (created 1st Lord Boringdon in 1784) and his second wife Theresa Robinson, who died in 1775, the year of the girl's birth (born 22 September). Theresa and her brother John (born 3 May 1772), later 1st Lord Morley, were brought up by their aunt, Anne Robinson, at Saltram, in Devon. Theresa married in April 1798 George Villiers, son of the 1st Earl of Clarendon.
Sir Joshua Reynolds may have been responsible for introducing John Parker to Angelica Kauffmann, on the latter's arrival in London in 1766. John Parker was a close friend of Reynolds, who painted the former's children in a double portrait in 1779 (Saltram House, Devon, National Trust), in which Theresa bears a striking resemblance to the girl in the present work. The name 'Parker' occurs frequently in Reynolds' Pocket Books; for the first time in September 1762, during his West Country Tour (presumably relating to the present Parker's father), and almost every year thereafter, mainly recording social engagements.
Parker owned several works by Kauffman, including a Self-Portrait and her Portrait of Reynolds (1768; London, Royal Academy, 1876, no. 45). There is evidence in unpublished correspondence between Anne Robinson and her brothers, Thomas Robinson, 2nd Lord Grantham, who was Ambassador in Spain, and Frederick (Fritz) Robinson, in London, that Kauffman was commissioned to paint a pair of oval portraits of the children, also in 1778-79. Fritz wrote to Lord Grantham, in February 1779, that Kauffman was currently painting 'the dear little girl's picture' to match the little boy's, though he adds that 'it will be something like exceedingly pretty, but will have the same fault with the boys to which it will be the companion viz the head is too large.' Parker's Account Book notes a payment to Kauffman in 1779 of 8 guineas for the 'little girl's picture'. The Saltram catalogue suggests that this may have been a different work attributed to Kauffman, after Reynolds' Portrait of Miss Meyer as Hebe, however, it seems more likely to be the present oval portrait.
Kauffman's work was informed by periods in Florence and Rome, as well as Naples, Bologna, Parma and Venice, between 1762 and 1766. She made connections with the British community in Rome, and was invited to England by the wife of Joseph Smith, the British diplomatic representative in Venice. When Kauffman arrived in 1766, London was home to a thriving Neoclassical School, second only to that in Rome. She rapidly established a reputation as a leading high-society portrait painter and on the establishment of the Royal Academy in 1768, of which she was one of the two female founder-members, she turned increasingly to history painting.
We are grateful to Wendy Wassyng Roworth for identifying the child in this portrait as Theresa Robinson, based on her own original research, and for her assistance with this catalogue entry.