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Elizabeth (née Gunning), Baroness Hamilton of Hameldon

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Elizabeth (née Gunning), Baroness Hamilton of Hameldon

by Francis Cotes
pastel on blue paper laid down on canvas, 1751
23 1/4 in. x 17 1/4 in. (591 mm x 438 mm)
Purchased, 1972
Primary Collection
NPG 4890

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Francis Cotes (1726-1770), Portrait painter. Artist or producer associated with 89 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

Pastel was a flattering choice for impoverished Irish beauty Elizabeth Gunning who caused a sensation when she arrived in London with her sisters in 1750. Images like this one promoted her celebrity. The artist Francis Cotes made several versions of the portrait and sold a mezzotint of it from his residences, securing his reputation as an artist. Pastels allowed aspiring artists like Cotes to establish a clientele without having to invest the time and money required for oil painting. Cotes used his success as a pastellist to launch his later career as a painter.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • The British Portrait, 1660-1960, 1991, p. 166 number 150
  • Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 16
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 45
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 276
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 66, 161 Read entry

    Carved and gilt pine, mitred and keyed, much regilded but traces of burnished water gilding in the hollow behind the acanthus-and-tongue, on the top edge and in the back hollow. 3 1⁄ 2 inches wide.

    Cotes drew a number of pastel portraits of Elizabeth Gunning and her elder sister, Maria, the most celebrated beauties of the day. These pastels were engraved as a pair and helped to establish Cotes's reputation as a fashionable portraitist. They are found framed in the Maratta style, either as here with the acanthus-and-tongue carvings, or Carlo ornament, as it is also known, in the hollow, or with the ornament on the sight edge of the frame in the Italian manner. Cotes's use of the Maratta to frame his pictures is an indication of the style's growing popularity in the early 1750s.

    This particular frame is densely carved with the acanthus-and-tongue completely filling the hollow and the tongues placed very close to the corners, rather like some other of Cotes's pastels of the period, such as that of Sir Edward Hulse, 1757 (Breamore House). Though undoubtedly the original, the frame on NPG 4890 was replaced in 1972 by one in the rococo style, presumably because it was thought that a Maratta frame was not appropriate to such an early work. The frame has recently been restored to its rightful place.

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Events of 1751back to top

Current affairs

Frederick, Prince of Wales dies and is succeeded by his son, later George III, as Prince of Wales.
Third Gin Act requires government inspection of distilleries and restricts sales to licensed premises in an effort to curtail consumption.

Art and science

Thomas Gray publishes his poem Elegy written in a Country Church Yard.
Philosopher David Hume publishes An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals.
Eliza Haywood publishes her novel The History of Miss Betsy Thoughtless.
William Hogarth publishes his satirical engravings Beer-Street, Gin Lane and The Four Stages of Cruelty.


Robert Clive reopens hostilities with the French in India. He prevails after holding out during the siege of Arcot.
First part of the Encyclopédie - an innovative 28 volume encyclopedia which represented the dominant strains of Enlightenment thinking - is published in France, edited by Diderot.
Swedish chemist Alex Cronstedt identifies nickel as an impurity in copper ore as a separate metallic element.

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