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  • P
  • Thomas Phillips
Mary Fairfax, Mrs William Somerville, 1780 - 1872. Writer on science 1834


  • Scottish Art
Mary Fairfax was the daughter of a naval officer and born in Jedburgh. As was customary for young ladies, she received very little formal education. Yet she taught herself algebra in secret and, as a young wife and mother, she continued to study mathematics. Widowhood at twenty-seven gave her the independence to develop her intellectual interests and her second husband, William Somerville, proved more supportive than her first. Somerville’s particular contribution to nineteenth-century science lay in her powers of analysis and explication rather than original research. She translated Laplace’s ‘The Mechanism of the Heavens’ into English and wrote a bestselling book on physics. After her death, Somerville College in Oxford was named in her honour.


  • Acc. No. PG 1115
  • Medium Oil on canvas
  • Size 76.20 x 63.50 cm (framed: 106.70 x 93.50 x 14.00 cm)
  • Credit Purchased 1929