This new display for the Miniatures Octagon in The Portland Collection has been curated by Vanessa Remington, Senior Curator at The Royal Collection.
The 5th Duke of Portland was one of a trio of major 19th century British collectors in this field, and Remington describes The Portland Collection’s miniatures as “probably second only to the Royal Collection”.
Miniatures were popular across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries and were usually intimate and informal portraits painted by specialist artists for rich patrons – who often gave them as love tokens.
The display reveals a man very different from his public persona. Despite his reputation as a recluse who avoided the outside world, Remington’s research shows a Duke who was nevertheless fascinated by youth, beauty, celebrities and high society.
Unfortunately, we have no diary or memoirs from the 5th Duke and so he’s been very much defined by the miles of tunnels he built under the family home. By examining his collection of miniatures though we see a man fascinated by women, despite being a recluse who had no personal relationships with women other than his sister.
There is a very clear focus on beautiful and famous young women so it’s a sad irony of his life that he felt unable to engage and enter that world despite the access his wealth and social status gave him
Amongst the exhibits are miniature portraits of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis XV, King of France and the famous soprano, Adelaide Kemble, the Duke’s unrequited love. A series of pastel paintings of the opera singer, which he commissioned, will also be on show.