Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Jane, Duchess of Gordon (1748/9-1812), circa 1783, wearing gold-trimmed green hat and matching dress, her hair powdered 

William Singleton (d.1793)

Portrait miniature of Jane, Duchess of Gordon (1748/9-1812), circa 1783, wearing gold-trimmed green hat and matching dress, her hair powdered, William Singleton
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 1 ¾ in (45mm) high
Blair Collection, Blair House, Ayrshire, Scotland
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Jane, Duchess of Gordon (1748/9-1812), was one of the most lively, controversial and fascinating women of the eighteenth century. Born to Sir William Maxwell of Monreith, Wigtownshire, third baronet, (c.1712–1771), and his wife, Magdalene, in Edinburgh, she showed spirit even as a child, riding through the Edinburgh streets on a pig.

In 1767 she married Alexander Gordon, 4th Duke of Gordon (1743–1827) and had five sons and four daughters. She settled into the life of a Duchess as a lively political hostess to her husband’s friends, but her opinions and overly vivacious nature were sometimes frowned upon in the upper echelons’ of polite London society.

Her portrait miniature here was painted, probably in London, circa 1783, and shows her as a handsome woman in her mid-thirties. Her flamboyant hat is perhaps in keeping with her colourful personality.

She numbered among her friends William Pitt and Henry Dundas (1742–1811), the latter being a particularly close friend. It is thought that they were drinking partners and many believed they were lovers, including several caricaturists. She was famous for her London parties, which were lavish in the extreme and attended by the great and the good of society. Nathaniel Wraxall commented that: ‘Few women have performed a more conspicuous part, or occupied a higher place … on the public theatre of fashion, politics and dissipation’ (Wraxall, 2.297–8). There can be little doubt that the duchess was the leading female Pittite for a considerable period.

She spent much of her time arranging advantageous marriages for her children and succeeded. Her daughters all married dukes, apart from one who married a marquess. She also spent time in Scotland as an agricultural reformer, introducing flax. She was instrumental in forming the village of Kingussie. She encouraged the awarding of prizes to knitters and spinners and also proposed the introduction of a ‘tryst’ or public market to prevent unfair trading, introduce incentives for industry, and provide employment.

Ten years after this miniature was painted, her unstable marriage finally collapsed and she made her permanent at home at Kinrara, where she was buried 11th May 1812.
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