David Garrick was acting in Dublin when the Viennese dancer Mlle Eva Maria Veigel, “La Violette” made her London debut at the King’s Opera House (in Haymarket) on March 11, 1746 in a run of celebrated performances that led Horace Walpole to describe her as “the finest and most admired dancer in the world.”
After arriving in England in February 1746, La Violette signed a contract with the Italian company at the King’s Opera House. She moved to Drury Lane later that year, dancing to this minuet at her first appearance, a Command Performance with Giuseppe Salomon and others on December 3, 1746, the year before David Garrick and James Lacy became joint-patentees of that theater. Garrick was still at this point acting at Covent Garden, in this week playing the role of Lothario in The Fair Penitent.
Garrick was smitten from the beginning: when he first saw her perform at the King’s Opera House, he was observed switching to the Prince of Wales’ box for a better view. Although their professional paths apparently never crossed, and despite the early disapproval by Eva Maria’s patron, Lady Burlingon, the two were married on June 22, 1749 and honeymooned at the Burlington’s villa in Chiswick. Once married La Violette gave up her dancing career and they are said to have never spent a night apart.
This hand-colored engraving is after a portrait of a youthful Eva Maria done in crayon by Katherine Read (1723–1778). Read was a successful theatrical portraitist known for her work in pastels who also made portraits of Susanna Cibber and Peg Woffington. The original pastel is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and a miniature copy can be found at the Garrick Club.