Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Lady Maria Conyngham (died 1843)

Sir Thomas Lawrence (British, Bristol 1769–1830 London)
ca. 1824–25
Oil on canvas
36 1/4 x 28 1/4 in. (92.1 x 71.8 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Jessie Woolworth Donahue, 1955
Accession Number:
Not on view
Lady Maria's father was created Marquess Conyngham in the peerage of Ireland in 1816. This was through the influence of his wife, Elizabeth, who in 1820 became the final mistress of the future King George IV of England. Husband and wife were in constant attendance at court. Between 1823 and 1826 the Marchioness and her three children sat for Sir Thomas Lawrence, the leading portraitist of the era. George IV was fond of Maria Conyngham and the present portrait hung for a time in his bedroom at one of the royal residences, St. James's Palace. The composition of the girl's portrait is elegant and the paint is applied to the canvas in broad, creamy strokes, with great assurance. However Lawrence was not greatly interested in drawing and her fingers are oddly jointed and disproportionately long.
The sitter’s parents, Henry and Elizabeth Conyngham, were regularly at court in the 1820s, from George IV’s accession until his death in 1830. Henry Conyngham had been created Viscount Slane, Earl of Mountcharles, and, in 1816, Marquess Conyngham in the peerage of Ireland through the influence of his wife, who in 1820 became the future king’s final mistress. Lawrence painted a portrait of Lady Conyngham in 1823 (formerly Slane Castle, County Meath; destroyed in a fire). Together with his portraits of George IV’s sisters, Mary and Amelia (Royal Collection), and of Lady Conyngham, this picture of her younger daughter, Maria, was placed in the king’s bedroom at St. James’s Palace in 1826. Lawrence had painted Maria’s brother, Francis (private collection), for the Royal Academy exhibition of 1823, and her sister, Elizabeth (Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon), for Christmas that year. It seems likely that the present portrait of the youngest child, of whom the king is reported to have been very fond, dates to 1824 or 1825. The portraits of the Conynghams were paid for by George IV but were probably intended for the sitters, in whose family at Slane Castle they descended (Millar 1968). Lawrence charged two hundred and ten pounds for this one and three hundred and ten pounds for each of the other three.

In 1832 Maria Conyngham became the first wife of Sir William Meredyth Somerville, fifth Baronet and member of Parliament for Drogheda from 1837 until 1852, who was later raised to the peerage of Ireland as Baron Athlumney. She had two children, a son who predeceased her and a daughter; she died in 1843. Her appearance in the portrait and the date of her marriage suggest that she was born about 1812.

The picture displays Lawrence's mastery of design and the fluidity and panache of his technique. A dog identified by contemporaries as a collie balances the triangular design at the lower left. A copy belonged to Solomon R. Guggenheim and to the Guggenheim Foundation, New York, and was sold at Sotheby's, London, March 17, 1971, no. 86, as by Lawrence.

[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Henry Conyngham, 1st Marquess Conyngham (until d. 1832); the Marquesses Conyngham (1832–97); Victor George Henry Francis Conyngham, 5th Marquess Conyngham, Slane Castle, County Meath, Ireland (from 1897; sold to Duveen); [Duveen, London and New York, until 1913; sold with Lawrence's portrait of Lady Elizabeth Conyngham for £131,000 to Stotesbury]; Edward T. Stotesbury, Whitemarsh Hall, Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia (1913–d. 1938; his estate, 1938–42); [Knoedler, New York, and O'Toole, New York, 1942; sold to Donahue]; Jessie Woolworth (Mrs. James P.) Donahue, New York (1942–55)
New York. Duveen Brothers. "Old Masters of the British School," January 1914, no. 14 (lent by Mr. E. T. Stotesbury).

Detroit Institute of Arts. "The Second Loan Exhibition of Old Masters: British Paintings of the Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries," January 18–31, 1926, no. 22 (lent by Mr. E. T. Stotesbury, Philadelphia).

London. 25 Park Lane. "The Four Georges," February 23–March 30, 1931, no. 10 (lent by Mrs. E. T. Stotesbury).

New York. Knoedler Galleries. "Allied Art for Allied Aid," June 10–29, 1940, no. 10 (lent by the Estate of Edward T. Stotesbury).

New York. James St. L. O'Toole Gallery. "Paintings and Works of Art from the Collection of the Late Edward T. Stotesbury," April 23–May 10, 1941, no. 11.

San Francisco. California Palace of the Legion of Honor. "Masterpieces of English Portraiture," June 25–July 31, 1941, no. 11.

New York. Parke-Bernet. "French and English Art Treasures of the XVIII Century," December 20–30, 1942, no. 392 (lent by Mrs. James P. Donahue).

New York. Wildenstein & Co., Inc. "Fashion in Headdress, 1450–1943," April 27–May 27, 1943, no. 79 (lent by Mrs. James Donahue).

Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 22.

Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. "Grandes maestros de la pintura europea de The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York: De El Greco a Cézanne," December 1, 2006–March 4, 2007, no. 18.

Art Institute of Chicago. "Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840," March 17–June 21, 2015, no. 77.

Walter Armstrong. Lawrence. New York, 1913, p. 123, dates the portrait 1810–15.

H. Isherwood Kay in Unknown Masterpieces in Public and Private Collections. Ed. Wilhelm R. Valentiner. Vol. 1, London, 1930, unpaginated, no. 103, ill.

C. Reginald Grundy. "Georgian Art at 25, Park Lane." Connoisseur 87 (March 1931), p. 191.

Henri Marceau. "The Stotesbury Collection." Pennsylvania Museum Bulletin 28 (December 1932), p. 23, ill. opp. p. 23 (installation view).

C. H. Collins Baker. British Painting. London, 1933, p. 281.

A. Aspinall, ed. The Letters of King George IV: 1812–1830. Cambridge, 1938, vol. 3, p. 489, no. 1592, lists it, among pictures painted by Lawrence for the private collection of George IV, as a Kit cat portrait of the Lady Maria Conyngham, priced at £210.

Henry de Courcy May. "The Spirit of the Eighteenth Century." Art News 41 (December 15–31, 1942), ill. p. 14.

"Rooms Recreate Elegance of 18th Century." Art Digest 17 (December 15, 1942), p. 14, ill.

Kenneth Garlick. Sir Thomas Lawrence. London, 1954, p. 33, dates it about 1825.

Kenneth Garlick. "A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings, and Pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence." Walpole Society 39 (1964), p. 59.

Oliver Millar. Letter to Elizabeth Gardner. January 29, 1968, notes that George IV paid for three portraits of the Conyngham ladies; that those of Lady Maria and her mother hung in his bedroom at St. James's Palace in 1826, went briefly to Windsor in 1828, and were returned to St. James's in April 1829; observes that "the king may always have intended that these portraits should ultimately belong to the Conynghams," doubting that they ever formed part of the royal collection.

Oliver Millar. The Later Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen. London, 1969, vol. 1, p. xxxvi, fig. XXVII, as a "delightful example of Lawrence's gayest proto-Victorian manner".

Kenneth Garlick. Sir Thomas Lawrence: A Complete Catalogue of the Oil Paintings. Oxford, 1989, p. 172, no. 207, ill.

Katharine Baetjer. "British Portraits in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Summer 1999), pp. 68–70, ill. (color, overall and detail).

Michael Levey. Sir Thomas Lawrence. New Haven, 2005, pp. 241, 333 n. 31, calls it "an epitome of Lawrence's late style" and "a near variant, though far more relaxed in mood" of his portrait of Lady Blessington (Wallace Collection, London) of about 1821.

Katharine Baetjer in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, pp. 128–30, no. 22, ill. (color) [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, pp. 74–75, no. 18, ill. (color)].

Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 218–19, no. 107, ill. (color).

A. Cassandra Albinson in Thomas Lawrence: Regency Power & Brilliance. Ed. A. Cassandra Albinson et al. Exh. cat., National Portrait Gallery, London. New Haven, 2010, p. 272, cat. 50.2 (color).

William Laffan in Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840. Ed. William Laffan and Christopher Monkhouse. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, 2015, p. 46, fig. 8 (color).

Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840. Ed. William Laffan and Christopher Monkhouse. Exh. cat., Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, 2015, p. 230, no. 77.

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