Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Lady Charles Cavendish Bentinck (d.1878) 1825c.

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA (1769-1830)

Portrait of Lady Charles Cavendish Bentinck (d.1878), Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA
Oil on canvas
19th Century
35 x 26 ĺ in. (88.9 x 68 cm.)
Private Collection, U.S.A.
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This portrait has only recently been confirmed to be an autograph work by Sir Thomas Lawrence1.

Lawrence also painted Lady Charles's two brothers in the same kit-cat format, Richard (Eton College) and Gerald Wellesley (Private Collection). This vibrant portrait exemplifies Lawrence's ability to crystalise the glamour of Regency Society. With his ability to record the character and story of an individual on canvas with keen aesthetic awareness and often breath-taking impact, Lawrence has also caught the intriguing personality and history of the sitter with masterful skill. Seeking to flatter the her image both in a literal and figurative sense, the artist and studio have created a splendid society portrait which utilises a full palate of colours, from the crimson of her shawl to a wide scale of blues ranging from the deep indigo of Lady Charlesís eyes to the aquamarine tints surrounding her filmy white dress. The artistís skill is particularly noticeable in his rendering of hands. Lady Charles''s are modelled with care and attention to detail, displaying the contours and shadows of knuckles along with the elegant litheness of her long fingers. Significantly, Lawrence has chosen to depict the sitter posed with her wedding ring in a visible position, a detail which plays an important role in identifying her as a wife.

The subject of this picture has traditionally been identified as Lady Charles Bentinck, a character whose past was the cause of a considerable amount of Regency gossip. Lady Charles, born Anne Wellesley the illegitimate daughter of the 1st Marquis of Wellesley first married Sir William Adby, 7th Bt. in 1806. After a divorce in 1816, she became the second wife of Lord Charles Bentinck. Divorce, a highly unusual and exceptional occurrence in the Regency would have placed the sitter in a precarious social position. Undoubtedly in response to this, the artist has made a point of placing the sitterís left hand, adorned with a wedding ring in a compositionally conspicuous position in an attempt to restore respectability to what would have been viewed by contemporary eyes as a damaged reputation.

1. We are grateful to Bendor Grosvenor for bringing to our attention documentation that confirms this attribution.
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