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The Three Witches from Macbeth (Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; Anne Seymour Damer)

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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The Three Witches from Macbeth (Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne; Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire; Anne Seymour Damer)

by Daniel Gardner
gouache and chalk, 1775
37 in. x 31 1/8 in. (940 mm x 790 mm) overall
Accepted in lieu of tax by H.M. Government and allocated to the Gallery, 2011
Primary Collection
NPG 6903

Sittersback to top

Artistback to top

  • Daniel Gardner (circa 1750-1805), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 16 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

The sculptor Anne Seymour Damer and the political hostesses Georgiana Duchess of Devonshire and Elizabeth Viscountess Melbourne are here depicted as the three witches from Macbeth. All three women loved amateur dramatics and were involved in productions at the private theatre at Althorp, Georgiana's country estate. Whereas Lady Melbourne had been friends with Anne Seymour Damer since the early 1770s, the friendship with Georgiana was fairly recent and this pastel may in part be related to Melbourne's desire to publicize their friendship.
Their portrayal as Macbeth's witches also hints at their political influence, as the witches in the play encourage Macbeth to seize power. From 1776, Georgiana was the hostess of the most influential political salon in England and these three women were keen supporters of Charles James Fox, who was probably Georgiana's lover. In defiance of convention, she publicly campaigned for him in the 1784 election and was accused of 'selling kisses for votes'.
The composition has no parallel in Gardner's oeuvre and it is assumed that either Damer or Melbourne suggested the design. Melbourne is also thought to have commissioned the work which has descended in her family. Although there is no evidence of its being exhibited at the time, contemporaries clearly knew of its existence. It is mentioned in Lady Mary Coke's journal where she wrote in 1775 of a drawing of 'the Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Melburn, and Mrs Damer all being drawn in one picture in the Characters of the three Witches in Macbeth … They have chosen that Scene where they compose their Cauldron, but instead of "finger of Birth-strangled babe, etc" their Cauldron is composed of roses and carnations and I daresay they think their charmes more irresistible than all the magick of the Witches'.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Pioneering Women, p. 38 Read entry

    Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), first wife of the 5th Duke of Devonshire, was an eighteenth-century aristocrat, fashion trendsetter and social celebrity. Favoured by fortune, she became the leading political hostess of her time. Considered the unofficial ‘queen of the Whigs’, she was the first woman to appear on the political hustings. She might even be said to have emboldened an early form of feminism, participating in those areas of public life from which women were customarily excluded. She is depicted here with two friends: the political hostess and agricultural improver Elizabeth Lamb, Viscountess Melbourne, and Anne Seymour Damer, a sculptor who inherited Strawberry Hill from her cousin Horace Walpole. This portrait reflects their status as three of the most notorious women of their day, witch-sisters in their passion for Whig politics and the arts. The use here of the cauldron scene from Macbeth – one of the most frequently painted scenes from Shakespeare at that time – may relate to their political string-pulling as leaders of the Devonshire House circle, the then current craze for Shakespeare and the Gothic, or simply to their fondness for the theatre.

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  • Lloyd, Stephen (ed.), Art, animals and politics : Knowsley and the Earls of Derby, 2016, p. 73
  • Perry, Gill (introduction) Roach, Joseph (appreciation) and West, Shearer (appreciation), The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons, 2011 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 2011 to 8 January 2012), p. 123

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1775back to top

Current affairs

Act of Parliament extends inventor James Watt's patent (first granted in 1769) and the first steam engines are built under it.
First known building society - Ketley's Building Society - is established in Birmingham by Richard Ketley, landlord of the Golden Cross Inn.

Art and science

First performance of Richard Brinsley Sheridan's play The Rivals at the Covent Garden Theatre in London.
Artist J.M.W. Turner is born.
Satirist James Gillray's first engravings and etchings are published.
Navigator Captain Cook publishes his discovery of a preventive cure against scurvy, in the form of a regular ration of lemon juice.

International

War of American Independence begins with British defeat at Lexington and Concord and lasts until 1783. British achieve a narrow and costly victory over the Americans at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Edmund Burke delivers a speech to the British Parliament on conciliation with the American colonies.
First performance of Pierre Beaumarchais' comic opera The Barber of Seville in Paris.
Pope Pius VI succeeds Pope Clement XIV as the 251st pope.

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