Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Mary Chichester, Lady Clifford-Constable 1789

George Romney (1734-1802)

Portrait of Mary Chichester, Lady Clifford-Constable, George Romney
oil on canvas, in an original Romney frame
18th Century
24 x 29 ¼in. (61.5 x 74cm.)
Calverleigh Court, in the family of the sitter; then probably at Tixall, Staffordshire; by descent to Lieutenant-Colonel Raleigh Chichester-Constable of Burton Constable, by whom sold Christies July 8th 1927; 1st Baron Dulverton, Batsford Park Gloucestershire, and by descent.
H. Ward and W. Roberts, Romney. A Biographical and Critical Essay with a Catalogue Raisonné of his Works, Thomas Agnew and Sons, London, 1904, p. 28.
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Mary Chichester, daughter of John Chichester, of Arlington in Devon, married in 1791 Thomas Hugh Clifford, a landowner in Staffordshire. The Cliffords played host, on several occasions, to the exiled French King Louis XVIII. After the King’s brief restoration in 1814, Clifford used his acquaintance with Louis to seek a Baronetcy from the Prince Regent, Later George IV. Clifford was successful, and assumed the title in 1815.

The first recorded sitting for a ‘Miss Chichester’ in Romney’s studio was in the afternoon of 22nd April, and there followed five more until 5th May. Since Romney painted both Mary and her sister Catherine, the fact that this portrait was completed from relatively few sittings may help account for the pronounced and lyrical fluidity so often seen in Romney’s later works, and particularly his portraits of Emma Hamilton. Romney delighted in the broad free application of paint to the canvas, and the swift capturing of likeness and character. Here, the sketchy nature of the arms and costume suggests not that the painting is unfinished, but that Romney deployed the assured rapidity of handling that became his trademark, and which was necessitated during this busiest period of his career when he was most in demand (sitter books record up six or seven sittings per day in his studio.)

This portrait is typical of the romanticism favoured and perfected by Romney. His admiration of neo-classicism – evidence of which can particularly be found in his drawings – often sees his sitters portrayed with long flowing contours and simple forms. This style was well suited to portraying contemporary fashion and taste – Romney’s forte – so that sitters such as Mary Chichester were almost guaranteed to be portrayed with elegance and beauty. The Chichesters must have been happy with the result, for a Mr Chichester began sittings in August 1789.

Ward and Roberts (Catalogue Raisonné, New York 1904) record that this painting was listed as ‘Paid for in full by Mr. Needham, of Gray’s Inn – i.e. John Needham, 6 Gray’s Inn Square – 50gns., Oct. 1789; sent off to Calverleigh, near Tiverton, Devonshire, June 25, 1792’. They also note that ‘these two portraits are not now at Calverleigh Court. Mr Nugent Chichester informs us that, at his grandfather’s death in 1837 certain pictures (portraits), plates etc. were sold. A cousin of Mr. Nugent Chichester thinks that the Romney pictures may at one time have been at Tixall, and when the property was sold the pictures probably went to Burton Constable’.
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