Manner of George Gower
- George Gower
Portrait of Mary Kytson, wife of Thomas Lord Darcy
- inscribed u.l.: Mary, Wife of Thomas Lord Darcy,/ Daughter of Sir Thomas Kytson,/ 1583. Aetatis 17.
- oil on panel, held in an elaborately carved and gilded frame
By descent through the Gage family at Hengrave Hall, Suffolk until the death of Henrietta Beauclerk, Lady Gage, widow of Sir Edward Gage, 9th Bt.;
by descent to Valentine Brown, 4th Earl of Kenmare (1825-1905), whose aunt, Lady Mary Anne Browne was the wife of Sir Thomas Gage, 7th Bt;
by descent to Elizabeth, Countess of Kenmare;
Her sale, Sotheby's London, 21st July 1943, lot 81;
Colonel G.C. Golding;
His sale, Christie's London, 30th March 1951, lot 12
R. Strong, The English Icon: Elizabethan & Jacobean Portraiture, 1969, p. 177, no. 126 as by George Gower;
K. Hearn, Dynasties; Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, 1995, pp. 102-103
The sitter was the younger daughter of Sir Thomas Kytson of Hengrave Hall, Suffolk, and of his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Cornwallis of Brome in Suffolk. Her paternal grandfather, also Sir Thomas Kytson, was a famous Tudor Merchant Adventurer and Sheriff of London, with commercial interests in London and the Low Counties. He acquired the Hengrave estate from the Duke of Buckingham in 1521, and built Hengrave Hall, one of the finest Tudor houses in the country, over the following decade. Further acquisitions followed the dissolution of the abbey of St. Edmund in the late 1530s, and by the time of his death in 1540 Sir Thomas was amongst the larger landowners in Suffolk.
Mary Kytson had two siblings: an older brother, who died in infancy, and an older sister Margaret, who married Sir Charles Cavendish of Welbeck, son of the redoubtable Bess of Hardwick, in 1582, but died soon afterwards. Mary Kytson herself was married to Thomas, Lord Darcy (afterwards Earl Rivers and Viscount Colchester) of St. Osyth in Essex in May 1583. Very remarkably, detailed accounts survive among the Hengrave papers for the clothes and jewels supplied for the wedding, and it seems likely that some of them appear in this portrait. The account includes, among other jewels: '...x doz. Aglets...a payer of borders, upper and nether, set with rubys and perles and diamonds...XV buttons with v greate perles in a button...a jewell and xiii diamonds and a greate perle...a cheyne with perle...xxx buttons with perle and rubies...' for which Sir Charles Cavendish was reimbursed in full. Money was also paid to Peter the jeweller 'for a greate perle, bought of him, for my La. Dercye', and to Mr Herycke, goldsmith, in Cheapside 'for a cheyne of gold sett with perle, for my La. Dercye'.
Mary Kytson's most notable legacy, is the series of portraits she commissioned four of which are known today. The present portrait dates from c. 1700 and shows her as a girl of seventeen on the point of marriage. The second portrait, painted by an unknown artist in 1590 and now on loan to Tate Britain depicts her seven years older. Ravishing but melancholy, her marriage already in decline: the motto JAMAIS DERECHEIF (freely translated as 'never act in haste') is self-explanatory, but the little dog, a symbol of fidelity, probably alludes ironically to the slanders of her bitter husband. The third portrait which remained at Hengrave until the mid 20th Century, is an image of defiance and self-sufficiency: the combative pose, the exclusion of Rivers from her coat-of-arms, and the inscription 'if not I care not' on the letter in her hand all proclaim her indifference to her estranged husband. The fourth portrait, still in the possession of their Gage descendants at Firle in Sussex, was painted by Cornelius Johnson in 1629, and portrays Mary Kytson at seventy-three. Evidently reduced in spirit, she nevertheless wears the two ropes of magnificent pearls familiar from the other portraits, quite possibly those she had received on her wedding day forty five years previously.
Tree ring analysis indicates a likely date for the portrait as being between 1693 and 1725 and that the panel derives from a single tree still growing in 1685. A copy of a detailed report by Ian Tyers is available upon request.