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Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Georgiana Cavendish (née Spencer), Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), Beauty and leader of Whig society; first wife of 5th Duke of Devonshire

A leader of Whig society; daughter of 1st Earl Spencer, married 1774 the 5th Duke of Devonshire who from 1784 shared the favours of Lady Elizabeth Foster, whom he eventually married 1809 - a ménage à trios founded on mutual admiration and a love of high fashion.

‘The Duchess of Devonshire effaces all, without being a beauty; but her youth, figure, flowing good nature, sense and lively modesty, and modest familiarity, make her a phenomenon’ (Horace Walpole, 1775).

‘her beauty ... lay in the amenity and grace of her deportment, in her irresistible manners and the seduction of her society. Her hair was not without a tinge of red, and her face, though pleasing, yet had it not been illuminated by her mind, might have been considered as an ordinary countenance’ (Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, 1815).

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.