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Creator:
Thomas Rowlandson, 1756–1827, British
Title:

The Duchess of Devonshire and the Countess of Bessborough

Additional Title(s):

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Her Sister Harriet, Viscountess Duncannon (Later the Countess of Bessborough) and a Musician

Date:
1790
Medium:
Watercolor with pen and black and gray ink over graphite on laid paper, mounted on, moderately thick, moderately textured, cream, wove paper
Dimensions:
19 11/16 x 16 3/4 inches (50 x 42.5 cm) and 22 7/8 x 20 inches (58.1 x 50.8 cm)
Inscription(s)/Marks/Lettering:

Signed and dated lower left: "Rowlandson - 1790"

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1975.3.141
Classification:
Drawings & Watercolors
Collection:
Prints and Drawings
Subject Terms:
aristocracy | couch | dresses, evening | guitar | man | music | portrait | sheet music | sisters | sitting | women
Associated People:
Cavendish [née Spencer], Georgiana, duchess of Devonshire (1757–1806), political hostess
Ponsonby [née Spencer], Henrietta Frances [Harriet], countess of Bessborough (1761–1821), noblewoman
Access:
View by request in the Study Room [Request]
Note: The Study Room is open by appointment. Please visit the Study Room page on our website for more details.
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5620
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For Rowlandson, 1784 was an annus mirabilis. That year the portraits he exhibited at the Royal Academy gave way to the comic drawings that dominated the rest of his career. He also emerged as a political caricaturist during the fraught campaign over the Westminster Election. At the center of the campaign were Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), and her sister, Harriet, Lady Duncannon (1761-1821). Together they secured the election of Charles James Fox by persuading dithering voters to support their candidate - to the consternation of George III. "Neither entreaties nor promises were spared. In some instances even personal caresses were said to have been permitted, in order to prevail on the surly or inflexible" (Wraxall, 1836, vol. 1, p. 11). Here Rowlandson returns to portraiture six years after the notorious election to depict the two sisters relaxing together on a sofa with a musical score and a serenading guitarist. The matching white dresses, flowing lines, and gentle incline of heads suggest a harmonious relationship, underscored by the metaphor of musical harmony. Georgiana, on the left, was perhaps the most admired and reviled woman of her age, by turns Whig political hostess and fashion icon, novelist, and gambler. The latter vice she passed on to Harriet, who "however inferior to the duchess in elegance of mind and in personal beauty, equalled her in sisterly love" (Wraxall, 1836, vol. 1, p.8). Rowlandson's drawing reflects the fact that, in 1790, the only consolation the sisters had was in each other's company: that year, Georgiana moved to France to escape recriminations over her role in the Regency Crisis, and Harriet's husband had discovered her liaison with the playwright and politician Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Ironically, the first recorded owner of this drawing was George, 5th Duke of Gordon, son of the Tory hostess Jane, Duchess of Gordon, Georgiana's chief political rival.

Matthew Hargraves

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, cat. no. 65, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)



Thomas Rowlandson's popular reputation as a perceptive and gently mocking-if rarely overtly satirical-commentator on eighteenth-century social life has tended to detract from our appreciation of his extraordinary talents as a draftsman and colorist. Rowlandson's lively portrait of the two celebrated socialites, Georgina, Duchess of Deonshire (1757-1806), and her sister Harriet (1761-1821), demonstrates the refinement and facility characteristic of his drawing style, qualities which are all the more remarkable given his prodigious output (the Center alone owns more than four hundred watercolors by Rowlandson).

Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire, epitomized the extravagant modus operandi of the aristocracy in late eighteenth-century England. Married at the age of seventeen to William, 5th Duke of Devonshire, she became a celebrated society hostess, renowned for her cutting edge sartorial sense and notorious for her love-affairs and unregenerate addiction to gambling. Georgina also played an influential role in political life with her active promotion of the Whig cause. Her month once remarked caustically: "Without being handsome or having a single feature in her face [she is] one of the most showy girls I ever saw," but like her sister Harriet, Georgina was considered a great beauty, and the two women's legendary vivacity and charm are vividly conveyed in Rowlandson's drawing. Georgina, who is depicted holding a sheet of music, seems to have been a talented musician; she played the harp, and in 1799 the song she wrote for Richard Brinsley Sheridan's tragedy Pizzaro became a success in its own right. The sisters also appear prominently in Rowlandson's evocation of fashionable life, Vauxhall Gardens (cat. 87).

Gillian Forrester

Wilcox, Forrester, O'Neil, Sloan. The Line of Beauty: British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century. Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2001. pg. 22 cat. no. 7

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Royal Academy of Arts, 2007-10-20 - 2008-01-27) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : A Passion for British Art (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Thomas Rowlandson from the Paul Mellon Collection (National Sporting Library and Museum, 2005-04-14 - 2005-06-10) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Line of Beauty : British Drawings and Watercolors of the Eighteenth Century (Yale Center for British Art, 2001-05-19 - 2001-08-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Thomas Rowlandson (Art Services Int'l) (The Baltimore Museum of Art, 1990-06-23 - 1990-08-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Thomas Rowlandson (Art Services Int'l) (The Frick Art Museum, 1990-04-21 - 1990-06-03) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Thomas Rowlandson (Art Services Int'l) (The Frick Collection, 1990-02-10 - 1990-04-08) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

English Portrait Drawings & Miniatures (Yale Center for British Art, 1979-12-05 - 1980-02-17) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Rowlandson Drawings from the Paul Mellon Collection (Royal Academy of Arts, 1978-03-04 - 1978-05-28) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Rowlandson Drawings from the Paul Mellon Collection (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-11-16 - 1978-01-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Pursuit of Happiness - A View of Life in Georgian England (Yale Center for British Art, 1977-04-19 - 1977-09-18) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, p. 273, no. 65, pl. 65, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

British Art at Yale, Apollo, v.105, no. 182, April 1977, pp. 282-3, fig. 18, N5220 M552 A7 1977 OVERSIZE (YCBA) Published as April 1977 issue of Apollo; all of the articles may also be found in bound Apollo Volume [N1 A54 105:2 +] [YCBA]

John T. Hayes, Rowlandson : watercolours and drawings, Phaidon, London, 1972, pp.138, 139, no. 75, pl. 75, NJ18 R79 H39 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Patrick Noon, English Portrait Drawings & Miniatures, Yale Center for British Art, 1979, p. 134, no. 345, NC772 N66+ (Wall Shelf) (YCBA) [YCBA]

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 2, no. 65, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA) [YCBA]

J. H. Plumb, The pursuit of happiness : a view of life in Georgian England : an exhibition selected from the Paul Mellon collection, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1977, pp. 45, 96, no. 66, N6766 Y34 1977 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Aileen Ribeiro, A Visual History of Costume : The Eighteenth Century, B.T. Batsford, London; New York, 1983, p. 125, no. 138, GT 733 .V57 1983 4 (LC)

The Cunning Eye of Thomas Rowlandson, Apollo, vol.105, no. 182, April 1977, pp. 282-3, fig. 18, N1 A54 05:2 + (YCBA) Also available: N5220 M552 A7 1977 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Scott Wilcox, Line of beauty : British drawings and watercolors of the eighteenth century, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2001, p. 22, no. 7, NC228 W53 2001 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sir Nathaniel William Wraxall, Posthumous memoirs of his own time, Richard Bentley, London, p. 11 (v.1), , DA506 W9 A33 1836 (YCBA Rare) (SML) [ORBIS]


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