Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Lady Frances Lady Coningsby and Lady Katherine Jones 1687

Willem Wissing (1656 -1687)

Portrait of Lady Frances Lady Coningsby and Lady Katherine Jones, Willem Wissing
Oil on canvas
17th Century
82 x 53 inches 208.3 x 134.6cm
By descent to the Rt. Hon the Earl of Essex, Cassiobury Park, Watford, Herts. His sale June 12th-23rd 1922 (Knight Frank and Rutley) lot 699, as by Sir Peter Lely; William Randolph Hearst; His sale January 5th-7th 1939 (Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York) lot 24, as by Sir Peter Lely; Schnittjer Sale January 14th-16th (Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York) lot 31, as by Sir Peter Lely; Albert K. Schneider Sale October 14th 1953 (Parke-Bernet Galleries Inc., New York) lot 71, as by Sir Peter Lely; Haussners Restaurant, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
G.J. Didusch Haussner''s Restaurant, Catalogue of Original Paintings c.1963, no. 243 (as by Sir Peter Lely)
Note: The reattribution of this portrait to Willem Wissing has been proposed by Sir Oliver Millar, who is familiar with the painting.

Lady Frances (1672/3-1714/5) and Lady Katherine Jones were the twin daughters of Richard Earl of Ranelagh (1640-1711/12) and his first wife, Elizabeth, daughter and coheir of Francis, Lord Willoughby of Parham. Lord Ranelagh most probably commissioned this portrait from Wissing in the last year of the artist''s life, when Lady Frances and her sister were just about to enter their teens. As a piece of extravagance it accords well with the tastes and habits of Ranelagh, a man described by Carte in his Life of the Duke of Ormonde (vol.IV p.501), as ''craving and greedy of money, yet at the same time profuse and lavish.'' It is worth recalling the Lord Ranelagh''s ambitions when considering his commission to Wissing, since the painting must be viewed in no small part as a marital advertisement.

The floral aspect of the portrait, however, recalls Lord Ranelagh''s redeeming passion for gardening. By 1690 the Earl had taken a house adjoining Chelsea Hopital, which, though the whole was executed in the most extravagant manner, it was the gardens that most impressed contemporaries by the taste and skill of their arrangement.

Lady Frances married as his second wife -and against her father''s will- Thomas, Lord Coningsby of Clanbrassil. Lord Ranelagh showed his displeasure by granting his daughter''s intended portion to Greenwich Hospital instead. Lord Coningsby was an inept, arbitrary and unpopular politician; his elevation through the ranks of the peerage was a direct result of his courage displayed in fighting for William of Orange at the Boyne and Aughrim, which earned him his Irish barony in 1692 and of his devotion to the Hanoverian cause, which resulted in an earldom in 1719, too late for his wife to have enjoyed the title. Their elder daughter Margaret (1709-1761) was created in her mother's lifetime Baroness and later Viscountess Coningsby of Hampton Court. In 1729 at the death of her father she assumed the title of Countess of Coningsby in her own right. In the following year she married Sir Michael Newton Bart., but no dynasty resulted from the union of these families: their son, John Newton Viscount Coningsby died an infant in 1732, and the Countess died in 1761, the mother of no further children. Margaret's younger sister Frances married Sir Charles Hanbury-Williams KB, whose daughter, also named Frances, married William Capel, Fourth Earl of Essex. Through her this portrait passed into the collection of the Capel family where it remained until sale in 1922.

This portrait of the two sisters with a Negro page is a product of Wissing''s last manner- and an example of the artist at his most extravagant. The figures of the two girls and indebted in the most general way to the artist's experience as a Lely Studio assistant between 1676 and 1680, but the influence of Kneller is also apparent. Entirely Wissing''s own, however, is the luscious exoticism of the setting. The portrait is set within the garden of a palace just suggested in the background. Three separate clutches of bright flowers give the painting a somewhat continental feel, which is characteristic of these tours-de-force of Wissing's work. The Negro page, whilst not an unknown motif in English portraiture at this time, is handled with a similarly continental confidence and sophistication.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.