Margaret Cavendish had a serious and philosophical desire to understand and record the natural world. To this end she assembled The Portland Museum. This exhibition celebrates her extraordinary life; daughter of a great collector; friend to poets, philosophers, scholars and Royalty; patron of Captain Cook; owner of the largest natural history collection in 18th century Britain; owner of the Portland Vase and creator of vast botanical gardens and a zoo.
If her children had shared her passions, perhaps her collections may not have been sold and she may have remained as famous today as she was during her life. However after her death the entire contents of The Portland Museum (over 4,000 lots) were auctioned. The Duchess of Portland and her museum were then forgotten.
Objects on display include fine and decorative arts bought back by the Cavendish family in the auction including pieces from a silver-gilt dessert service designed by Margaret which crawls with exquisitely modelled insects.
A display of natural history specimens recreates some of sights that would have astonished visitors to The Portland Museum.
The exhibition catalogue, ‘Duchess of Curiosities – The Life of Margaret, Duchess of Portland’ is available to buy from Amazon.