The Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection, A Family Collection, A National Museum, An International Treasure House
Margaret, Countess of Blessington
  • Thomas Lawrence (1769 - 1830)
  • Margaret, Countess of Blessington
  • England
  • 1822
  • Painting
  • Oil on canvas
  • Image size: 91.5 x 67 cm
  • P558
  • West Room
Images & Media
Further Reading
  • The Irish beauty Margaret (‘Marguerite’) Power (1789-1849) married as her second husband Charles John Gardiner, the 1st Earl of Blessington (1782-1829), in 1818. Thereafter she became known as Marguerite, the Countess of Blessington. Lady Blessington published her first novel in 1822, the year in which Lawrence painted this portrait.

    The sitter is dressed very simply and wears little jewellery. The only indication of her aristocratic status is the ermine-trimmed robe draped over the chair. The low-cut neckline of her dress is also notable. On seeing the painting exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1822, the critic William Hazlitt remarked on the sitter’s ‘voluptuousness’; according to Lord Byron, the painting ‘set all of London raving’.

    The portrait is one of the best examples of Lawrence’s tendency to combine precise detail (in the sitter’s face) with a loose handling of paint. Although the background is particularly sketchy, it is very unlikely that the artist considered the portrait to be unfinished.

    The picture was bought by the 4th Marquess of Hertford in 1849 at the sale of Gore House and its contents (a site now occupied by the Royal Albert Hall), where, since 1836, Marguerite had been living with the so-called ‘dandy’ Alfred, Count D’Orsay (c. 1801/4-1852). Between 1836 and 1849, the Countess had established a renowned salon at there, where she also met the 4th Marquess.