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Unknown woman, formerly known as Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Unknown woman, formerly known as Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby

by Unknown artist
oil on panel, 19th century
17 1/2 in. x 12 1/2 in. (445 mm x 318 mm)
Purchased, 1908
Primary Collection
NPG 1488

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When the Gallery purchased this painting in 1908, very little was known of its history but it was thought to be the only portrait of Henry VII’s mother painted from life, in around 1475. The Gallery’s director, Lionel Cust made much of it as a rare and important example of early English portraiture.
The Gallery’s earliest record of the portrait dates from 1883 when it was purchased by Lord Powerscourt. He invited the first director, George Scharf to view it, but Scharf was not convinced of its authenticity. He sketched it on the back of Lord Powerscourt’s letter describing it as ‘A fabrication’.
Powerscourt promptly resold it at Christie’s, probably the lot titled ‘A lady, in nun’s dress’. By the time it again appeared at auction in 1908 Scharf’s opinion was apparently lost sight of and it was purchased for the Gallery as a portrait of Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and Derby.
Cust’s successor, Sir Charles Holmes, had his doubts however, and in January 1911 wrote a report on the portrait noting some peculiarities, for example that it was painted on a very fine linen laid down on a modern panel and that the coat of arms was a later addition.
His suspicions were confirmed in 1939 when two x-ray photographs were taken. These revealed that a portrait of an unknown young woman in the costume of circa 1510-50 was painted underneath, probably an early copy of a donor or donor’s wife from an early 16th century Flemish altarpiece; it had been painted over and a coat of arms added in order to sell it as a portrait of Henry VII’s mother.
What we see today is now known to be a 19th century painting.

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Current affairs

Wlliam Pitt and Lord Castlereagh both resign over the King's refusal to permit the introduction of Catholic emancipation. Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth succeeds Pitt as Prime Minister.
Census records 9 million people living in England and Wales, 5.2 million in Ireland and 1.6 million in Scotland.

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Radical writer, Amelia Opie publishes her best known novel The Father and the Daughter. Said to have reduced Walter Scott to tears, it went on to enjoy success as an opera and a play.


Other members of the First Coalition fighting France with Britain agree to a humiliating peace treaty and Britain fights on alone.
A successful campaign is fought against the French army marooned in Egypt. General Sir Ralph Abercromby leads the troops but is killed in action.
Thomas Jefferson is elected President of the United States.

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Paul Rogan

22 December 2020, 20:05

Reading an account by James Norris Brewer about his travels in Ireland in 1826. In it he refers to Jamestown House in Westmeath and some of the paintings there. One he describes as ," The Countess of Richmond, mother to King Henry vii, dare 1505. Her ladyship is represented in a black dress,and in an attitude expressive of grief

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