Spotlight on… Lady Cunliffe

August 31, 2008 at 12:36 pm (portraits and paintings, spotlight on) (, , , )


The reader’s first reaction will undoubted be: Who was Lady Cunliffe?? There are actually several ladies who, at the end of the 18th century, went by this name. All were related; wives of several baronets who held the title, one after the other. The woman pictured at left (in a portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds) is Mary, Lady Cunliffe; wife (widow) of Sir Ellis Cunliffe; daughter of Henry Bennett of Chester. Of the career and life of Sir Ellis I will have more to say later; he figures in the histories of both Liverpool and Annapolis, Maryland. Sir Ellis and Lady Cunliffe were Mary Gosling’s maternal grandparents.

Lady Cunliffe had only two children, unlucky for her husband’s title, neither of them a son. Her first daughter, Mary, married Drummond Smith – alas, she died before he received his baronetcy in 1806. This Drummond Smith (for he had a great-nephew of the same name) was Uncle to Eliza Chute of The Vyne, Maria Marchioness of Northampton, Augusta Smith of Suttons, and Emma Smith (again, not to be confused with her niece, Emma Austen-Leigh). He lived much of his life at his estate Tring Park in Hertfordshire.

Lady Cunliffe’s second daughter, Margaret Elizabeth, married William Gosling the banker. Her premature death in December 1803 is said to have hastened the death of her most beloved sister only two months later, in February 1804.

The book in which this portrait is reproduced – SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS: A COMPLETE CATALOGUE OF HIS PAINTINGS (Yale, 2000), by David Mannings, has this to say about the work: ‘Painted 1761, wearing a pink dress of ruched silk with lace ruffles; a miniature portrait of her husband on her left wrist. She sits in a green upholstered chair. There are appointments with Lady Cunliffe in June 1761… There is a cancelled appointment on 9 Nov. 1762. A first payment of 15 gns is recorded in the Ledger on 1 July [1761] (Cormack 1970, 114); a second payment of the same amount was made between 6 July 1761 and 28 May 1762 (ibid. 115).’

Then comes this most interesting tidbit: ‘Lady Cunliffe’s name appears almost every year in Reynolds’ Pocket Books 1777-89, usually at eight or nine o’clock, apparently in the evening, on one occasion with a note: “Cards & supper.” Sometimes she arrives with Mrs Vesey, Mrs Shipley or Mrs Boscowen and it is clear that these are social calls.’

A side note: Sir Joshua is known to have painted a companion portrait of Sir Ellis (1717-1767) – but its whereabouts remains untraced; it was last known to have descended to Herbert Gosling of Botley’s. Herbert died in 1929; the estate was sold in 1930. The artist also painted several members of the Colebrooke family – relatives of Charles’ first wife, Belinda. The most famous of the Reynolds’ portraits belonging to this extended family is that of Mrs Drummond Smith, held in private collection at Castle Ashby (seat of the Marquess of Northampton; not open to the public).

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