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Frances Delaval, later Mrs Fenton Cawthorne (1759 - 1839), with her Sister, Sarah Delaval, later Countess of Tyrconnel (1763 - 1800), with a shuttlecock and battledore, in an interior

William Bell (c.1735 - 1794)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1771 (signed and bears date)

Materials

Oil on canvas

Measurements

2362 x 1473 mm (93 x 58 in)

Place of origin

England

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Collection

Seaton Delaval Hall, Northumberland

NT 1276758

Caption

This portrait is one of a series, depicting Delaval family members, which now hang in the Gallery at Seaton Delaval. The sitters are the two youngest daughters of Sir John Hussey Delaval, Bt. (1728 – 1808), later Lord Delaval. Frances married John Fenton of Lancaster, who, in 1781, inherited a modest estate at Wyreside in Lancashire, and became Mr Fenton Cawthorne. Her husband was something of a liability, racking up debt, and eventually being court-martialled by the army for embezzling funds. Her sister Sarah, was beautiful, strong-willed and captivating. She married George Carpenter, 2nd Earl Tyrconnel, but embarked upon intense, long-standing affairs with Frederick, Duke of York, and later Lord Strathmore. On her death, Strathmore embarked upon an affair with Sarah’s nineteen year-old daughter. For most of his life, William Bell was a provincial painter in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. This series of portraits is undoubtedly his masterpiece, showing him to have been a gifted and individual painter, influenced by Reynolds and Kauffman.

Summary

Oil painting on canvas, Frances Delaval, later Mrs Fenton Cawthorne (1759 - 1839), with her Sister, Sarah Delaval, later Countess of Tyrconnel (1763 - 1800), with a shuttlecock and battledore, in an interior, by William Bell (Newcastle-upon-Tyne 1740 - 1804), signed, bottom right: Wm. Bell Pinx.t and inscribed, bottom left: Frances Delaval. 1771. and b.c.r. Sarah Hussey Delaval.1771. Both full-length portraits, the former wearing a blue dress, the latter a white dress with pink ribbons, holding a shuttlecock and battledore; set in an interior, with steps background right.

Full description

The two youngest daughters of Sir John Hussey Delaval, Bt. (1728 – 1808), later Lord Delaval. Frances married, in August 1778, John Fenton of Lancaster, who, in 1781, inherited a modest estate at Wyreside in Lancashire, and became Mr Fenton Cawthorne. He was elected M.P. for Lincoln in 1783, but when the time came for re-election in 1790 he had to battle against two contenders. He spent £2500 on his campaign, most of it unwittingly bankrolled by Sir John, who insistent on being repaid, forced Cawthorne to sell assets and he cut France’s allowance. He joined the army as a Colonel, but the pitiful wage did little to settle his debts and he was eventually court-martialled for embezzling funds and bribery, which resulted in his being expelled from the Commons in May 1796. Frances loyally stood by him, and by 1801, appears to have been in correspondence with her father. Having paid off some of their debts, by 1807 they were reunited, and in a letter of that year she thanks him for a draft of £125. She died in 1839, the last of her generation. Sarah was the youngest and favourite daughter of Sir John Hussey Delaval and Susanna Robinson. Beautiful, strong-willed and captivating – notably to Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, the second son of George III. She was hastily married off to George Carpenter, 2nd Earl Tyrconnel (1750 – 1805) on 3rd June 1780, and they honeymooned at Doddington, where they reportedly played ‘blind man’s buff’ [!] She bore him two children, the first of which died in 1790, and her daughter Susan, later marrying the Marquess of Waterford. By 1787 Sarah and the Duke of York were lovers, and he bought a house, Oatlands, in order to be close to her country estate, Claremont, which had been bought by her father. The Duke married Princess Frederika of Prussia, and their affair dwindled, and by 1791, Sarah had embarked on an intense affair with Lord Strathmore, who had been smitten by her performance in The Fair Penitent at Seaton Delaval. In 1792 he bought Claremont Lodge, only a mile away from Claremont House, but when they were in the North, he and Sarah lived openly at Gibside, where she died on 7th October 1800, after a long illness. Her obituary, written by her father, stated that she had died at Seaton Delaval, although The Gentleman’s Magazine pointed out that she had actually died at the seat of her lover. Strathmore gave her a lavish funeral, and she was buried at Westminster Abbey. Strathmore embarked upon an affair with Sarah’s 19 year old daughter, whom he wished to marry, but the match was prohibited by her father (see M. Green, The Delavals. A Family History, Newcastle, 2007, pp.99-102). It is not known exactly where these pictures hung, although it seems most likely that they were in the Saloon (there is insufficient space in the Entrance Hall). The daughters are framed in a later and a simpler type of frame (c.1800) than those of Susanna and the two males. It seems possible that their frames were changed in order that they might fit into an alternative location. William Bell is little known for two reasons: that he was for most of his life a provincial painter, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne; and that for half a decade or more, from c.1770 to at least 1775 he was “limner” – the term was as old-fashioned as the mode of employment – to Sir John Hussey Delaval (cr. Baron Delaval of Redford in the Irish Peerage in 1783, and Seaton Delaval in the British Peerage in 1786. Yet these portraits show him to have been a gifted and individual painter, and his London career was much more promising. He was – at the advanced age of 34 – the first student to enter the newly-founded Royal Academy’s Schools in 1769, and won a gold medal there for a painting of Venus Entreating Vulcan to forge Arms for Aeneas in 1771. It seems likely that he was related to Alexander Bell, who carved stonework at Seaton Delaval between 1764 and 1768, and who returned there in 1776 to build the mausoleum. That may have been the connection that brought William to Seaton Delaval, where he not only painted the four original whole-lengths, but also extended earlier family portraits to make a set with them. They all hang in the Gallery, along with the Astley / Hasting chairs and settees upholstered with the Tournament embroidery. Other portraits by Bell are in what is now the main repository of Delaval pictures, Dodington Hall, Lincolnshire. After this activity for Lord Delaval, Bell retired back to Newcastle, and sank into provincial obscurity. He seems, towards the end of his life, to have became the friend of Thomas Bewick, the wood-engraver of Cherryburn (NT). (Amanda Bradley)

Provenance

accepted in lieu of tax by H.M.Treasury and transferred to the National Trust in 2009

Credit line

Seaton Delaval, The Hastings Collection (National Trust)

Marks and inscriptions

Bottom right: Wm. Bell Pinxt. Bottom left, and bottom centre: Frances Delaval. 1771. Sarah Hussey Delaval. 1771. Frame tablet: FRANCES, b.1759, afterwards Mrs Fenton: and SARAH, b.1763 / afterwards Countess of Tyrconnell and heiress to Ford Castle, Northumberland, / 5th and 6th daughters of John, Lord Delaval. / WILLIAM BELL, 1771

Makers and roles

William Bell (c.1735 - 1794), artist

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