Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Louise de Kerouaille (1649 - 1734), Duchess of Portsmouth, c.1675 

Henri Gascars (1634/5–1701)

Portrait of Louise de Kerouaille (1649 - 1734), Duchess of Portsmouth, c.1675, Henri Gascars
Oil on canvas
17th Century
28 x 50 inches 71.1 x 127 cm
Collection of Mrs Colville Hyde; Her sale Christies April 29th 1937 Private Collection, France.
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Louise de Kerouaille never enjoyed the same popularity with the English public as her predecessor the Duchess of Cleveland or her immediate rival, Nell Gwynne. Her noble French birth, her high manner and her Catholicism could not win the people’s love, as an episode proved in Oxford, when a crown assailed Nell Gwynne’s coach mistaking it for that of the odious ''Madam Carwell''. Nell Gwynne was forced to lean out of the window and shouted ''Good people be civil. It is the Protestant whore.''

She was, nonetheless, highly successful in her career as a mistress, and as an agent in the interest of King Louis XIV. She had first come to England in 1670 as a Maid of Honour to the Duchess of Orleans, the King’s sister. When the Duchess died in that year, Louis sent her back to England in order to captivate the King, whose mistress she became in the following year. She was the most absolute of the mistresses, and remained with the King until his death. Charles’s obligation to Louis was considerable — he received a pension from the French king in consequence of the Secret Treaty of 1670 — and neither this money nor Louise de Kerouaille let him forget it. In 1674 she was created Baroness Petersfield, Countess of Fareham and Duchess of Portsmouth.

Her conduct of her position was highly accomplished, and she ensured amid moments of strong anti-Catholic feeling, such as the Popish Plot, that she was friends not only with the Duke of York, as might be expected, but with the Earl of Shaftesbury, the Prince of Orange and the Duke of Monmouth. At the King’s death she lived in England until 1688, when returned to France. She spent the rest of her life in considerable financial difficulties, having spent the fortune that she received from Charles on gambling and extravagance. She was the longest-lived of the mistresses. In 1716 she returned to England to collect the remainder of a pension due to her. It was at the court of George I on this occasion that she met the Countess of Orkney, mistress of King William III and Catherine Sedley Countess of Dorchester, mistress of King James II when Duke of York, who shocked her by remarking: ''Who would have thought we three whores should have met here?” Portsmouth died in France in 1734. The Dukes of Richmond are descended from her.

Henri Gascar arrived in England from France in 1672 in the suite of Louise de Kerouaille who was his principal patron in England. De Kerouaille's arrival awakened the latent fascination with French taste that has always gone hand-in-hand with the British mistrust of the old enemy. The showy, flamboyant and wholly artificial style of Henri Gascar was the perfect expression of the French taste in opposition to English stolidity, and even Sir Peter Lely, whose genius had dominated court painting since the Restoration, felt threatened as pictorial fashion turned away from his manner that suddenly appeared perhaps too rooted in Dutch realism for the frivolous mood of the times. During his comparatively short stay in this country — he left in 1677 shortly after Louis XIV ceased paying his subsidy to Charles - he painted and - in several cases -engraved the portraits of the principal ladies at the Court, including portraits of the Duchess of Portsmouth in more conventional guise, seated with her son The Duke of Richmond in a garden (Deene Park) and singly in a portrait that derives from the same composition (Hartwell House). After leaving England Gascar returned to French service, and painted The Signing of the Treaty of Nijmgen in 1678. Two years later he was received into the French Academy, before travelling to Italy, and in 1691 to Poland before returning to Italy, where he died in Rome.
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