A few years ago, Diane Gaston (Perkins) and I spent two entire days at Chatsworth House and we honestly could have gone back for a third. It’s that sort of House – you can’t help but to want more helpings of it. One of the many draws to Chatsworth is the vast collection of portraits on show. In this post, we concentrate on the ladies, more specifically, on the Duchesses of Devonshire. It was stunning to see many of the most iconic portraits of the Duchesses on show. All in one place. At the same time.
Above, Diane is admiring the portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire as Cynthia, from Spenser’s ‘The Faerie Queene,’ painted by artist Maria Cosway in 1783. Further down the same wall, in the same room, we found the arrangement of portraits below.
The portrait at the centre of this grouping is Gainesborough’s famous depiction of Georgiana. It is the most identifiable and not only because it is a masterly work of art – the portrait itself has a twisting, criminal history. You can read all about it in a past post here.
Above, Georgiana as painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds circa 1780
Above is Reynold’s portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster, Georgiana’s friend and confidante, who went on to herself become the Duchess of Devonshire after Georgiana’s death. You can read the entire story in a post on Catherine Curzon’s blog here.
Which brings us to another group of portraits at Chatsworth House, executed in an entirely, some might say startlingly, different style.
Painted by artist Lucian Freud, a family friend, this collection includes more recent members of the Cavendish family, including Deborah (nee Mitford), Duchess of Devonshire.
If her willingness to sit for an artist with such a raw, frank and unflattering way of approaching his subjects is anything to go by, Debo hadn’t a narcissistic bone in her body.
As you may or may not already know, I have a special place in my heart for Deborah Mitford. I have to be honest and say that I much prefer to see her depicted in a more conventional style.
This gorgeous portrait of Deborah by Pietro Annigoni (1954)
can also be seen at Chatsworth House.
Diane and I were fortunate to be able to also view an exhibition of 65 of Cecil Beaton’s portraits of Deborah and her family and friends at Chatsworth. The exhibition is aptly titled Never a Bore: The Duchess of Devonshire and Her Set and runs through 3 January, 2017. Included are both candid and posed photographs, such as this portrait, a personal favourite. In fact, I like it so well that I’ve made it my Facebook photo.
You can read The Telegraph’s story on the entire Beaton exhibition here.
We will again be visiting Chatsworth House during Number One London’s Country House Tour in 2021. Please click here for details and complete itinerary. Do consider joining us – we’d love to share our love of Chatsworth House with you!