THE PROPERTY OF THE DESCENDANTS OF THE 9TH DUKE OF PORTLAND
The 2nd Earl of Oxford was possibly the greatest of Wootton's aristocratic patrons. The extraordinary scope of his intellectual and artistic interests was unparalleled in England in the eighteenth century, particularly in the encouragement he gave to English artists, architects, gardeners, men of letters and antiquarians. His wife's fortune gave him substantial financial means with which to embellish his principal seat, Wimpole Hall, and he commissioned over forty paintings from Wootton, covering a remarkable range of subjects, from life-sized horse portraits and Newmarket scenes, Arcadian landscapes and English views. One of the most prominent subjects, however, was hawking and hunting scenes, reflecting his wife's enthusiasm for the chase. Whilst her husband's interests were more scholarly, the Countess of Oxford was a prominent figure on the hunting field in the early eighteenth century and, remarkably for a woman of her generation, kept her own pack of harriers. Indeed one of Wootton's greatest hunting scenes depicts Lady Henrietta Harley hunting with her Harriers at Wimpole (Private collection) – another Oxford commission.
A number of versions of this picture exist, of which on stylistic grounds this appears to be the prime one. Another version was exhibited in the Midlands Houses exhibition in Birmingham in 1938, lent by W. R. West Esq., whilst a version was recorded in the Portland collection in the 1930s. The earliest secure provenance for the present painting is when it appeared with Agnew's at the Antique Dealers Fair in 1956, citing the Cooke Collection as provenance. Given the quality in comparison to the other known versions, however, it must surely be the prime version commissioned by the sitter's husband and have been sold out of the family at some point in the nineteenth century, possibly following the death of the 5th Duke of Portland (1800–1879), who died without issue and the title passed to a cousin.
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