London’s National Portrait Gallery has acquired a re-discovered portrait of the 17th-century patron, builder and conservationist, Lady Anne Clifford.
This was a rare woman who fought in a male-dominated establishment, and Clifford is now seen as a proto-feminist, determined not to be bullied or coaxed into accepting less than she believed to be her due. At her death she was probably the wealthiest woman in England.
The painting was previously lost, recorded only through literary references, but the portrait of Lady Anne Clifford was discovered by Mark Weiss in a European private collection. The National Portrait Gallery have bought the portrait for £275,000, funded with £70,000 given by the Art Fund and the remainder from the Gallery’s Portrait Fund and over £45,000 from private donations.
Lady Anne’s diary entry records that she sat for the artist William Larkin during the summer of 1618, when she was twenty-eight. It is of outstanding quality for a work of this period and is clearly recognisable as Anne by comparison with other portraits and with her own description:
The colour of mine eyes was black like my father’s and the form and aspect of them was quicke and lively like my mother’s. The hair of my head was brown and very thick… with a peak of hair on my forehead, and a dimple in my chin.
Lady Anne Clifford, Countess of Dorset and later Countess of Pembroke (1590 – 1676) was well-educated and intelligent; her knowledge and conversational abilities were commented on by John Donne: ‘she knew well how to discourse of all things, from predestination to slea-silk’.
Her life was dominated by her extended and very public attempts to claim what she believed was rightfully her inheritance from her father, George Clifford, Third Earl of Cumberland, who had left her money, but left his very extensive properties to Anne’s uncle. Through archival research, legal disputes and astonishing persistence, she was able to establish the justice of at least part of her claims.
She eventually inherited most of the disputed estates on the death of her uncle and cousin, and became famous in her latter years for her very extensive building and restoration works on her castles and churches in the north of England. Her patronage also extended to commissioning a substantial number of works of family history, among them three ‘Great Books’ of record (including an autobiography), a book about her father’s voyages, and a book of her mother’s letters.
She kept her own diary, parts of which have survived and are important records of early seventeenth century aristocratic life and she commissioned a large number of portraits of herself, including a huge triptych, now at Abbot Hall in Cumbria, recording her own appearance at different ages, as well as that of various family members.
The portrait’s painter, William Larkin (d. 1619), was one of the most prominent and influential artists of the early 17th century, and is currently represented in the National Portrait Gallery only by a portrait of Frances Howard, Countess of Somerset and George Villiers, First Duke of Buckingham. Both appear to be largely studio works, of much lower quality than the present portrait.
The National Portrait Gallery currently has one portrait of Lady Anne Clifford, a record of her appearance later in life, which is a copy of a portrait by Sir Peter Lely painted in the 1640s.
Catharine MacLeod, Curator of Seventeenth Century Portraits, said,
It is very exciting to be able to represent such a fascinating and prominent seventeenth-century woman with such a beautiful portrait. The modelling of the face is particularly refined and subtle, conveying a sense of individuality and personality unusual in English portraiture at this time.
Lady Anne Clifford by William Larkin will go on display in the Gallery from spring 2014.
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.