PROPERTY FROM CASTLE HOWARD. FROM THE COLLECTIONS OF THE EARLS OF CARLISLE
The Bachelor Duke
Painted in 1824, and exhibited at the Royal Academy that year, this is one of three portraits of the 6th Duke by Lawrence. The earlier of the other two was painted shortly after he succeeded to the Dukedom in 1811, at the age of twenty one, and depicts a corner of Chatworth in the background (Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth). The latter, which is also on panel, dates from 1828 and depicts the Duke wearing the star of the Order of the Garter under a fur lined coat, which is thought to be a reference to his embassy to Russia (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle). The Castle Howard picture, painted when the sitter was in his mid-thirties, at the height of his activity as a collector, is arguably the finest and most engaging of Lawrence’s portraits of the handsome young Duke. The most eligible bachelor in Regency England, though he never married he was pursued by countless mothers ambitious for their daughters, and his numerous dalliances included an affair with Pauline Bonaparte, Princess Borghese, the sister of the Emperor Napoleon. A dandy, who took pains with his dress, the Duke is depicted here much as he saw himself. In 1825 he confessed in a letter to his sister Georgiana, ‘I am indeed beautiful to look at… A lovely bloom on my face, my forehead white as snow shaded by my auburn locks and all the women in the street fall desperately in love with me the moment they see me.’2
The Marquess of Hartington, as he was known until 1811 (hence the endearing family nickname, Hart), and his two sisters, Lady Georgiana (known as Little G), later Countess of Carlisle, and Harriet (Harry-O), later Countess Granville, grew up in the curious menage à trois of their parents and Lady Elizabeth Foster, who was both their father’s mistress, by whom he had two illegitimate children, and their mother’s closest friend. Firmly raised in the liberal Whig tradition of the Devonshire house set, his early education was supervised by his governess, Selina Trimmer, daughter of the educational reformist Mrs Sarah Trimmer, before subsequently attending Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge, whence he matriculated BA in 1811. In July of that year, little more than two months after his son had come of age, the 5th Duke died, leaving Hart as sole heir to an immense inheritance, which included the property and related estates of Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall, both in Derbyshire, Bolton Abbey in the West Riding and Londesborough Hall in the East Riding of Yorkshire, as well as the previously mentioned Lismore Castle, Chiswick House, Devonshire House and Burlington House (the last of which he sold to his uncle, Lord George Cavendish, for £70,000 in 1815). On top of this were properties in Buxton, Hartington and Chesterfield, as well as land in Huntingdonshire, Nottinghamshire, Cumberland, the East Riding and Ireland which had been acquired since 1773 in a steady stream of purchases by his father. The income generated from these estates amounted to over £100,000 a year.
The 6th Duke soon put this vast inheritance to good use, and as well as the numerous building projects he embarked upon in the early years of his ascendancy, turned his attention to collecting coins and books. The first of these interests was a flash in the pan, the latter, however, proved to be a different matter, and books came to be a lasting passion. In 1812, following the death of the great bibliomaniac Thomas Dampier, Bishop of Ely, the 6th Duke paid his widow £10,000 for an entire library of rare books from the collection, and later that year bought forty-six extremely precious volumes at the 4th Duke of Roxburghe’s sale, including works by Caxton and de Wordes. The Duke also bought heavily in the Alchorne, Stanley, Heber and Townley sales in the ensuing years, and at the Edwards sale in 1815 he acquired two particularly beautiful books painted on vellum, one being a copy of Nonius Marcellus’s De proprietate sermonum printed in 1476. In 1821 he made possibly his most important bibliographic acquisition when he purchased, for £2,000, the complete collection of 7,500 plays in print and manuscript belonging to the retired theatre manager John Philip Kemble, which included one of only two first editions of Hamlet to survive and 111 volumes of playbills. Dr Waagen, who saw the manuscripts at Devonshire House in 1835, estimated it to be the richest collection of its sort in the world.3
His collecting taste soon broadened, however, and the 6th Duke quickly became one of the leading exponents of the mania for contemporary marbles that was the vogue among the rich aristocracy of England at the time. In 1819, whilst in Rome, he met and befriended Antonio Canova, then the greatest of all living sculptors, who’s most energetic and assiduous patron he soon became. It was for the 6th Duke that Canova created the sculpture that is considered by many to be his masterpiece, the Sleeping Endymion (which caused a sensation in London when it finally arrived from Italy), and within four years of first meeting the sculptor the Duke had acquired his statues of Madame Mère Seated, Hebe, which he bought from Lord Cawdor, and Petrarch’s Laura, as well as busts of Madame Mère and Napoleon. In Rome the Duke engaged Gasparo Gabrielli, the painter turned dealer, as his agent, and in Gabrielli’s company he visited the studios of Canova’s favourite pupils, including the English sculptor John Gibson, Rudolph Schadow and Bertel Thorvaldsen, all of whom he commissioned work from. The Duke would return to Italy on many occasions in the years to come, commissioning works from these and other modern sculptors, as well as buying antiquities. In Florence he commissioned statues from Bartolini and sat for his bust by Bonell. In Rome he commissioned Gibson, always a favourite of his among Canova’s protégés, for the monumental Mars Restrained by Cupid, and bought Adamo Tadolini’s Ganymede and Carlo Finelli’s Amor with a Butterfly. He sat to Thomas Campbell, another English sculptor working in Rome, patronised Tenerani and Trentanove, and ordered copies of Canova’s couchant lions from the tomb of Pope Clement XIII in St Peter’s by Rinaldo Rinaldi and Francesco Benaglia.
Sculpture was not his only area of interest in the fine arts, and the 6th Duke also collected paintings, furniture and decorative art. In 1822 he bought heavily at the Wanstead sale, and visited the studios of Chantry, Westmacott, Hayter and Jackson. He was an early patron of Sir Edwin Landseer, as well as other contemporary British painters such as William Cowen and Thomas Philips, and he bought Old Masters. In 1833, on a tour of Naples and Sicily, he was accompanied by the Neapolitan landscape artist Raffaele Carelli, a number of whose watercolours remain in the Devonshire collection today. He patronised the theatre, employed John Payne Collier as a literary agent, and retained the services of Charles Coote as his personal musician.
All these prodigious purchases required space, and in 1818 the Duke commissioned the distinguished architect Jeffry Wyatt (later to become Sir Jeffry Wyatville) to massively extend Chatsworth on the north side, creating a series of new state rooms, as well as a sculpture gallery and a greenhouse for plants. Motivated by the Duke’s unashamed love of splendour, as well as his passion for architecture, the idea was not only to provide a worthy shrine for the works of art he was amassing but to create a space where he could entertain on a truly grand scale, doubling the size of the house in the process. Hitherto a large country house, the 6th Duke intended that Chatsworth, like Longleat, where Wyatt had already carried out significant extensions for the 2nd Marquess of Bath, should become a palace. The most significant legacy of his architectural patronage, however, came in the form of another man; a young gardener at Chiswick who the 6th Duke plucked from obscurity to become one of the greatest architectural visionaries of the nineteenth-century: Sir Joseph Paxton. Under Paxton’s care the gardens at Chatsworth became the most famous in England, and with his instruction the 6th Duke developed a voracious appetite for collecting rare and newly discovered botanical specimens. Over the years a firm friendship grew between master and servant, and Paxton’s responsibilities at Chatsworth grew, becoming agent for the estate at a salary of £500 per annum in 1849. His earliest architectural projects consisted of a series of greenhouses and hothouses for the Duke, culminating in the Great Conservatory, or Chatsworth Stove, built between 1836 and 1841. Designed by Paxton, with practical assistance from the architect Decimus Burton, at 277 feet long, 123 feet broad and 67 feet high, this vast glasshouse, with a double-curved framework of laminated wood, was the largest glass building in the world at the time, and served as the inspiration for Paxton’s Crystal Palace, built for the Great Exhibition in 1851. In 1843, during Queen Victoria’s official visit to Chatsworth with Price Albert, the Stove was illuminated at night by 14,000 lamps, causing it to be compared in the press to a fairy palace of some Eastern tale. After dinner 3,000 Russian lights were attached to trees in the garden and the cascade lit by a ribbon of descending fire, whilst cannon fire and fireworks reverberated from the hillsides. The elderly Duke of Wellington commented ‘I have seen Versailles and La Granja…, but never in my life saw anything so beautiful as this fête’, adding to his host, in reference to Paxton, ‘I should have liked that man of yours for one of my generals.’
A ceaseless traveller throughout his life, the 6th Duke’s passion for exploration was first awakened on a tour through the courts of Northern Europe to Russia, in the company of his close friend Grand Duke Nikolai Pavlovich (1796–1855), later Tsar Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia. He had first met Nicholas in November 1816, whilst dining in London with Countess Lieven, the wife of the Russian Ambassador. The twenty year old prince was on an eight month tour of Europe, and the instant rapport established between them would develop into one of the most cherished friendships of the Duke’s life. In December Nicholas spent a lengthy stay at Chatsworth, and together they toured the Duke’s northern estates, went shooting, and spent the long winter evenings talking confidentially by the fire late into the night, sometimes playing the fool like two naughty schoolboys, unfettered by the rigid protocol which hedged nineteenth century royalty, particularly Russian princes. Back in London after Christmas the two were inseparable. They dined together frequently, rode every day at great pace in Hyde Park, where they cut quite a dash among the ladies, and the Duke gave a ball for his friend at Devonshire House. In March, when Nicholas was obliged to leave England, he suggested that the Duke accompany him to Berlin, where he was due to meet his fiancée, Princess Charlotte, eldest daughter of King Frederick William III of Prussia, and thence to St Petersburg for their wedding. Setting sail from Dover in the Royal Sovereign, lent to them by the Prince Regent, they reached Berlin on 23 April, from whence the Duke and his party set out on a short jaunt to Denmark, Sweden and Finland, before arriving in St. Petersburg in June. Exploring the Imperial city in a droshky he was overwhelmed by what he saw, finding it more beautiful than Paris and as clean as Chiswick despite being built like Venice on a bog. As Nicholas’s special guest the Duke was treated with the utmost courtesy wherever he went, and he wrote to his sister Georgiana, Lady Morpeth, later Countess of Carlisle, that he felt more at ease in St Petersburg than he did in London. With the help of the British Ambassador, Lord Cathcart, every palace was thrown open to the young English Duke, and he dined with the Emperor, Nicholas’s elder brother Alexander I. Following the succession of festivities that surrounded the wedding itself, all of which the Duke was present for, by July it was time to leave. Returning via Vienna, where he met the young Napoleon II, the Duke made his way to Trieste; and thence to Venice, where he called upon an old acquaintance, Byron’s great friend, John Cam Hobhouse, who showed him the poet’s manuscript of the fourth canto of Childe Harold. At Padua he attended a performance of Rossini’s new opera, The Barber of Seville, before travelling on to Verona and Vicenza, where he made a special study of Palladio’s Villa Capra, the archetype of his own villa at Chiswick. Returning north he dined with the King of Bavaria in Munich and visited Queen Charlotte at the Palace of Ludwigsburg, near Stuttgart, finally reaching England from Paris in November.
In 1826, following the death of his elder brother, Alexander I, Nicholas succeeded as Emperor of all the Russias, and the 6th Duke of Devonshire was appointed British Ambassador Extraordinary to Russia for the coronation. Accompanied by his nephew, Lord Morpeth, he reached Kronstadt on 25 May, to be greeted by the British Consul and three Russian Admirals of the Fleet. From there he travelled to St Petersburg, where a commodious palace belonging to Prince Demidov had been reserved for his stay. On 14 June he was received by the new Emperor at the Anichkov Palace, being ushered directly into the Tsar’s private sitting-room so that Nicholas could quiz him about the latest news from England, eager to know which of the ladies in London remembered him. Travelling to Moscow for the coronation itself, he rode a magnificent white charger lent to him by Count Benckendorff and danced with the Empress at the reception ball. On 13 August the Duke dined in private with the Imperial couple, presenting Nicholas with three views of Chatsworth and one of Chiswick as parting gifts, and receiving in return a pelisse of the finest sable and a diamond encrusted snuff-box bearing the Imperial portrait. To this the Emperor added two jasper vases and five diamonds, which were to be collected at St. Petersburg, and bestowed the Order of St. Andrew on his friend, the highest order of chivalry of the Russian Empire. On his return to England the Duke was further rewarded by George IV, who presented him with the Order of the Garter in grateful recognition of his service, and in April 1827 he was sworn onto the Privy Council. An influential, though at times reluctant statesman, he served as Lord Chamberlain to George IV from 1827-8, and again to William IV from 1830-1834, as well as Lord Lieutenant and custos rotulorum of Derbyshire, and High Steward of Derby.
As well as being a painter Lawrence shared the Duke’s passion for collecting, and the year before he painted this portrait the President of the Royal Academy had approached the Duke with a somewhat overbold request. Lawrence was keen to acquire five drawings by Raphael from the collection at Chatsworth, studies for the Renaissance master’s Transfiguration in the Vatican. The Duke at first declined, but when Lawrence reduced the request to three drawings, whilst offering in exchange anything – a painting, a drawing of his own, even to get engraved a drawing he had once done of the Duke’s mother, Duchess Georgiana – a deal was finally stuck. In exchange for the three Raphael cartoons the Duke received three drawings by Lawrence, one of which was of the King: a deal that the Duke later acknowledged had probably been a poor bargain. Perhaps a certain element of sour grapes on account of this incident may have contributed to Lawrence giving this portrait to the Duke’s eldest sister, Georgiana, Lady Morpeth, later Countess of Carlisle, if the Duke had changed his mind about the commission. Indeed it is odd that so great a patron of the arts should not have sat to the leading portrait artist of the age for a grand full length likeness of himself, and interesting to note that, of the three half-length portraits he did sit to Lawrence for, none of them ended up at Chatsworth during his lifetime; the other two being given to his half-brother, Sir Augustus Clifford, and the King respectively. His sister's husband, George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle (1773–1848), however, did sit the following year to Lawrence for a full length portrait, at the time of his succession in 1825. It is tempting to suppose that, her brother having turned it down, Lawrence may have presented this portrait to the Countess in the hope of gaining just such a large scale commission from her husband, thereby salvaging some financial reward for his work with the family.4
1 James Lees-Milne, The Bachelor Duke, William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire 1790–1858, London 1991, p. 150.
2 James Lees-Milne, The Bachelor Duke, William Spencer Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire 1790–1858, London 1991, p. 28
3 The collection as sold in 1914 to Henry Huntingdon, along with 25 volumes by Caxton, and now forms part of the collection at the Henry E. Huntingdon Library and Art Gallery, San Marino, California.
4 Lawrence's portrait of the 6th Earl of Carlisle today hangs on the grand staircase at Castle Howard. It was left unfinished at the time of the artist’s death in 1830, and was complete in the studio by J. Tomlinson.
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