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George Frederic Watts (1817-1904)

Mary Augusta, Lady Holland (1812-89) c. 1843-4

Oil on canvas | 80.7 x 63.7 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external) | RCIN 407170

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  • Half-length portrait of Lady Augusta Holland (1812-89), seated, facing the front, wearing a salmon pink dress with a floral pattern, a wide brimmed straw hat tied with a pink bow under her chin, her hands clasped in her lap with some red and pink flowers, landscape background.

    This charming portrait was painted in the autumn of 1843 at the Casa Feroni, Florence, the British legation where Watts was staying with the Hollands. Watts had been given a letter of introduction to Lord Holland the British Minister at the Court of Tuscany. He was invited to lunch on 3 October 1843 and by 23 October he had moved into the Casa Feroni as a permanent guest. He stayed for three years. He started painting Lady Holland's portrait on 13 October. Lord Holland recorded in his diary "Augusta sat all morning to Mr Watts for her portrait for a long time and tired herself", and on the following day "Augusta sat all morning for her portrait". Further sittings followed on 16, 17, 19, 20 October. Watts painted and drew a number of portraits of the sitter between 1843-5, mostly of an intimate nature. She was painted with her hair loose (Watts Gallery, c. 1884); in profile with her head turned coyly to the spectator (private collection). Both these paintings bear the same style of identifying inscription. The Watts Gallery also hold a smaller oil sketch entitled 'Lady Holland on a Day Bed', 1844.

    The portrait was mentioned in a letter written by Edward Ellice to the Dowager Lady Holland, in early December that year. He described it as being painted 'in the manner of the "Chapeau de Paillle"', making reference to the famous painting by Rubens, now in the National Gallery. Thus, the painting evokes deliberate comparison with portraits by both Rubens and Reynolds; noticeably Reynolds's device of casting part of the face in shadow. The bouquet of flowers suggests that Watts may have intended the sitter to be seen as Flora. The broad-rimmed straw hat is a 'capellina' and has been variously described as a Riviera or Nice hat.

    The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1848 (307); it was then recorded at Holland House in the 'Picture Room' in 1873. At this time it was engraved by C.H. Jeens for Princess Marie Liechtenstein (the Hollands adopted daughter). It was bequeathed by the sitter to Albert Edward Prince of Wales in 1889, and recorded by Lionel Cust in Buckingham Palace in 1909. A copy of the portrait was made by W. Muller to hang at Holland House, replacing the original.

    Mary Augusta was the daughter of the 8th Earl of Coventry, by his second wife Mary; she married in 1833 the 4th Lord Holland, who died in 1859. In a letter to his mother at the time of his engagement Henry described Augusta as 'very "petite", her face very beautiful – especially her eyes, but her figure bad and her way of dressing worse than Cinderella'. On her return to England Lady Holland became know as a society hostess and presumably moved in literary and artistic circles that also included the Prince of Wales. His engagement diary of 16 May, 1879 recorded that he attended Lady Holland's afternoon party at Holland House. The Prince presumably sat to Watts for the full-length portrait commissioned by Middle Temple, 1878 (Watts Gallery).

    Recent conservation has revealed the remarkably fresh, brilliant colours of Watts' palette; especially the rosy tint of her skin. It also brought to light the fact that he continued to add bright blue paint to the sky after the painting had been put into its fine Italian frame.
    Provenance

    Bequeathed by the sitter to Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, 1889

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas

    Measurements

    80.7 x 63.7 cm (support, canvas/panel/str external)

    102.0 x 85.7 x 6.0 cm (frame, external)