What was it about painting the Duchess of Devonshire?
Her son, Hart, said none of her numerous portraits captured her true likeness. She was the lady who made Thomas Gainsborough, an expert portraitist, throw down his paintbrush in frustration and claim the image defeated his talents. Despite this setback, we can credit Gainsborough for perhaps the most famous depiction of Georgiana. We also have Gainsborough to thank for creating a painting which became an obsession for many.
With a knowing look and a raised eyebrow she studies the viewer from under her powdered hair and cocked picture hat, a hat named after this very painting due to women rushing to their milliners asking for a hat just like as they saw in the picture. The hat design was one of Georgiana's own, and had a resurgence in the Victorian era where it was known as Gainsborough hat. The painting experienced a resurgence as well in the Victorian era when it vanished. The famous painting we see today is only a portion of the original work that so frustrated Gainsborough in 1783.
|A print showing the original layout|
|1871 print showing where it was originally cut|
Like Tolkien's Gollum and the ring, these men wanted to keep Gainsborough's portrait of Georgiana all to themselves, and like Tolkien's tale, the painting eventually made it to its rightful place and balance was restored. In 1993 the portrait was once again up for auction and this time the then Duke of Devonshire knew where it needed to be. As its former captor wished, the Duchess was finally going home. The Duke and the Chatsworth trust bought the portrait so Georgiana could once again preside over her former home, Chatsworth, and be in the public eye rather than hidden away. After all, art is rarely meant to be hidden.