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Lady Mary Somerset, Duchess of Ormonde (1664-1733)

Michael Dahl (Stockholm 1656/9 – London 1743)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

c. 1695 - c. 1699

Materials

Oil on canvas

Measurements

2360 x 1468 mm

Place of origin

England.

Order this image

Collection

Petworth House and Park, West Sussex

NT 486210

Caption

Lady Mary Somerset, Duchess of Ormonde was the daughter of Henry Somerset, 1st Duke of Beaufort, and Mary Capel, and a cousin of the Countess of Carlisle, another of the Petworth Beauties (see below). Mary married the army officer and Jacobite conspirator James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde (1665-1745) in 1685. She was made a Lady of the Bedchamber to Queen Anne in 1702, while her husband had been made a Gentleman of the Bedchamber to King William III in 1689. He served as Queen Anne’s Lord Lieutenant of Ireland from 1703-7. Mary was famous for her beauty, which was captured by the English poet John Dryden (1631-1700): ‘O daughter of the rose, whose cheeks unite The differing titles of the red and white; Who Heaven's alternate beauty well display, The blush of morning, and the milky way; Whose face is Paradise, but fenced from sin: For God in either eye has placed a cherubin.’ The Petworth Beauties This picture is one of the Petworth Beauties, a series of eight female portraits which decorate the Beauty Room at Petworth House. Seven were painted, c.1695-99, by the Swedish artist Michael Dahl (1659-1743), and one by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), dated 1705. Acquired by Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset (the ‘Proud Duke’, 1662-1748), and Lady Elizabeth Percy (1667-1722), for the Dining Room of their newly refurbished house, the Petworth Beauties were originally set into panelling, between mirrors, and surmounted by paintings of cupids by Symon Stone (active 1646-71) after Polidoro da Caravaggio. The engraver George Vertue (1684-1756), who visited Petworth House in the 1730s, described the portraits in his notebooks as ‘beauties. these are very well & deserve the characters of the best works of Mr. Dahl.’ On another occasion, he wrote: ‘At Petworth are several whole length pictures of Ladyes, beautyes, painted several years ago for the Duke of Somersett, that shew the great skill of Mr. Dahl in Art, beauty, of grace, genteel artfull draperies finely painted & well dispos’d.’ Six of the eight portraits (not the two overdoors) were originally full-length, but they were shortened by George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837) in the 1820s to make room for a series of paintings and sculpture relating to the Napoleonic wars. The 3rd Earl is quoted as saying: ‘I will cut off their legs, I do not want their petticoats; their heads shall be placed in three small panels above and the battles [Vittoria and Waterloo by George Jones] with the marble bust of the Duke [of Wellington] shall be placed below them.’ This involved cutting off the bottoms of the portraits, which sections, rather than being disposed of, were attached to the lining, and folded up behind the portraits. Two portraits (Lady Mary Somerset, Duchess of Ormonde [NT486210] and Rachel Russell, Duchess of Devonshire [NT486212]) were restored to full-length by the National Trust in 2019 with support from Philip Mould & Company for Tate Britain’s exhibition British Baroque: Power and Illusion (2020). The Petworth Beauties are comparable to the series of Beauties at Hampton Court Palace by Sir Godfrey Kneller, commissioned in 1690-1 by Queen Mary II (1662-94). Tabitha Barber has suggested that the Petworth Beauties may have sought to represent the ‘personal “court”’ of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset, in response to the Hampton Court Beauties, which represented the ladies of Queen Mary’s court. The political and court roles of the women and their husbands may have been a factor in their selection, as well as family bonds with the Somersets. The Petworth Beauties have occasionally been believed, mistakenly, to represent the ladies of the court of Queen Anne.

Summary

Oil painting on canvas, Lady Mary Somerset, Duchess of Ormonde (1665-1733) by Michael Dahl (Stockholm 1656/9 – London 1743), 1690s. Three-quarter-length portrait, of a young woman, seated, full front, her head three-quarters left. She is wearing a deep brown-gold dress, blue lined and is holding a rose in her right hand. A bottle green curtain is to the right and an arcade in the left background.

Full description

The Petworth Beauties This picture is one of the Petworth Beauties, a series of eight female portraits which decorate the Beauty Room at Petworth House. Seven were painted, c.1695-99, by the Swedish artist Michael Dahl (1659-1743), and one by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), dated 1705. Acquired by Charles Seymour, 6th Duke of Somerset (the ‘Proud Duke’, 1662-1748), and Lady Elizabeth Percy (1667-1722), for the Dining Room of their newly refurbished house, the Petworth Beauties were originally set into panelling, between mirrors, and surmounted by paintings of cupids by Symon Stone (active 1646-71) after Polidoro da Caravaggio. The engraver George Vertue (1684-1756), who visited Petworth House in the 1730s, described the portraits in his notebooks as ‘beauties. these are very well & deserve the characters of the best works of Mr. Dahl.’ On another occasion, he wrote: ‘At Petworth are several whole length pictures of Ladyes, beautyes, painted several years ago for the Duke of Somersett, that shew the great skill of Mr. Dahl in Art, beauty, of grace, genteel artfull draperies finely painted & well dispos’d.’ Six of the eight portraits (not the two overdoors) were originally full-length, but they were shortened by George Wyndham, 3rd Earl of Egremont (1751-1837) in the 1820s to make room for a series of paintings and sculpture relating to the Napoleonic wars. The 3rd Earl is quoted as saying: ‘I will cut off their legs, I do not want their petticoats; their heads shall be placed in three small panels above and the battles [Vittoria and Waterloo by George Jones] with the marble bust of the Duke [of Wellington] shall be placed below them.’ This involved cutting off the bottoms of the portraits, which sections, rather than being disposed of, were attached to the lining, and folded up behind the portraits. Two portraits (Lady Mary Somerset, Duchess of Ormonde [NT486210] and Rachel Russell, Duchess of Devonshire [NT486212]) were restored to full-length by the National Trust in 2019 with support from Philip Mould & Company for Tate Britain’s exhibition British Baroque: Power and Illusion (2020). The Petworth Beauties are comparable to the series of Beauties at Hampton Court Palace by Sir Godfrey Kneller, commissioned in 1690-1 by Queen Mary II (1662-94). Tabitha Barber has suggested that the Petworth Beauties may have sought to represent the ‘personal “court”’ of the Duke and Duchess of Somerset, in response to the Hampton Court Beauties, which represented the ladies of Queen Mary’s court. The political and court roles of the women and their husbands may have been a factor in their selection, as well as family bonds with the Somersets. The Petworth Beauties have occasionally been believed, mistakenly, to represent the ladies of the court of Queen Anne.

Provenance

Painted for the 6th Duke of Somerset (1662-1748) in the late 1690s. Thence by descent, until the death in 1952 of the 3rd Lord Leconfield, who had given Petworth to the National Trust in 1947, and whose nephew and heir, John Wyndham, 6th Lord Leconfield and 1st Lord Egremont (1920-72) arranged for the acceptance of the major portion of the collections at Petworth in lieu of death duties (the first ever such arrangement) in 1956 by H.M.Treasury.

Credit line

Petworth House, The Egremont Collection (acquired in lieu of tax by HM Treasury in 1956 and subsequently transferred to the National Trust)

Makers and roles

Michael Dahl (Stockholm 1656/9 – London 1743), artist

Exhibition history

Vicereines of Ireland: Portraits of Forgotten Women, Dublin Castle, Ireland, 2021 British Baroque: Power and Illusion, Tate Britain, London, 2020

References

Walpole Society (Great Britain) twentieth volume of the Walpole Society, 1931-1932 : 1932., p. 81 Walpole Society (Great Britain) twenty-second volume of the Walpole Society, 1933-1934 : 1934., p. 43 Jones 1849: George Jones, Sir Francis Chantrey, RA: Recollections of his Life, Practice and Opinions, London 1849, pp. 121-22 Barber 2020: Tabitha Barber, "The Petworth Beauties", Art and the Country House https://doi.org/10.17658/ACH/PTE530, Accessed 30/03/2022 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Accessed 11/03/2022 Dryden, John, Fables ancient and modern;, MDCC. 1700, ‘To Her Grace the Duchess of Ormond’ Sainty and Bucholz 1660-1837: John Sainty and Robert Bucholz, Database of Court Officers 1660–1837, Lord Chamberlain’s Office, courtofficers.ctsdh.luc.edu, Accessed 11/03/2022

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