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Georgiana Cavendish (née Spencer), Duchess of Devonshire

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Georgiana Cavendish (née Spencer), Duchess of Devonshire

by Victor Gustave Lhuillier, after Thomas Gainsborough
etching, published 1877 (1763)
8 7/8 in. x 7 in. (226 mm x 178 mm) plate size; 14 1/8 in. x 10 in. (359 mm x 255 mm) paper size
Purchased with help from the Friends of the National Libraries and the Pilgrim Trust, 1966
Reference Collection
NPG D16749

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Nicholas Ennos

29 May 2019, 17:40

I am currently carrying out research on the original painting on which this print is based. In the book "Women Painters of the World" of 1905 by Walter Shaw Sparrow this painting is identified as being by Catherine Read. It reproduces this painting on page 61 after a photograph of the painting by Hanfstaengl. I have contacted Blanc Verlag in Germany who hold the archive of the engraver and photographer Franz Hanfstaengl to see if they have any further information about this.

The painting is also referred to in "Scottish Painting Past and Present" of 1908 by James L Caw as being by Catherine Read. It says that it is one of her most personal portraits. Wikipedia also mentions this portrait as being one of Catherine Read's best. Catherine Read also made a portrait of the same subject in pastels, but that is one of her inferior productions and therefore most unlikely to be the portrait referred to.

I would be interested to know where the attribution of this portrait to Thomas Gainsborough comes from.

Catherine Read was an artist employed by the Spencer family and some of her pastel portraits of the family are on show at Althorp. However, Catherine Read was equally talented at oil painting but this is not well known and there has therefore been a tendency to attribute all of her oil paintings to either Gainsborough, Reynolds or Allan Ramsay.

This portrait appears to be in the style of Catherine Read rather than Thomas Gainsborough. The clothing is painted in close detail rather than sketchily as was the style of Gainsborough. One clue as to the style of Catherine Read is her inability to portray hands and arms well, as she was not able to study anatomy because she was a woman.

I understand that Lady Georgiana Spencer was her mother's favourite child and that therefore she would have wanted to have her portrayed by the most famous painter of children at the time who was Catherine Read, already employed by the family for other child portraits. It would have been unlikely therefore that they would have called in Thomas Gainsborough to make a portrait of a child.

The clothing and the colour scheme of this portrait bear a lot of similarities to Catherine Read's oil portrait of her niece Helena Beatson This can be seen if you google "Katharine Read Dundee Women's Trail". This portrait is actually superior in quality to the portrait of Lady Georgiana Spencer (I must confess that this portrait is owned by myself but is on permanent display at the McManus Gallery in Dundee).
I would be grateful if you were able to assist me in any way with the identification of the artist of the original painting.

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