John Singer Sargent, Winifred Duchess of Portland, 1902

The Portland Collection is renowned for its portraiture. It includes one of the largest collections of oil painted portraits still privately owned in England. The works by John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925), commissioned in the early 20th-century, capture the grandeur and luxury of the Welbeck estate, and its place in Edwardian society.

Sargent was a prolific painter who produced over 900 paintings and 2000 watercolours. He made gorgeous, traditional portraits in a light and fluid style. Yet his paintings have often been referred to as ‘crowd-pleasers’ and not serious art – compared to other artists at the time like Pablo Picasso.

This artist who painted glamorous high-society portraits in the manner of Van Dyck at the dawn of the modern age is easily mistaken for a conservative throwback […]  but what makes him so original and haunting is the way he combines tour de force brushwork he learned from the French with an acute interest in human psychology
Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

Painting the Portlands

John Singer Sargent, The 6the Duke or Portland, 1900

John Singer Sargent, The 6th Duke of Portland, 1900

The close up above is from Sargent’s life-size portrait of Winifred, Duchess of Portland (1863 – 30 July 1954), who was a humanitarian and animal welfare activist. She was considered to be one of the great beauties of the generation, and this portrait captures her in a romantic ruff which is reminiscent of the earlier portraits in The Portland Collection by Van Dyck.

Unusually, Sargent painted the Duchess at home – rather than in his studio. The portrait shows her stood by the fireplace in the Red Drawing Room at Welbeck Abbey. This room is included in the Welbeck Abbey State Room Tours.

John S. Sargent, R.A., who is considered by many to be perhaps the greatest portrait painter since Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence, was also an intimate and valued friend of ours. In 1902 he stayed with us for nearly a month, and during that time he painted the well-known picture of my wife. […] When it was finished the canvas remained in the empty room, and one of our friends – Lady Helen Vincent, now Lady D’Abernon – who happened to look through the window, tapped on the glass and called my wife’s name. Later in the day she met my wife and asked her, ‘Why were you so haughty this morning, and wouldn’t answer when I tapped on the window?’ Sargent was very pleased when he heard of this.

The 6th Duke of Portland, Men, Women and Things

Two years earlier, Sargent had painted the 6th Duke of Portland (1857 – 1943). On inheriting Welbeck, the 6th Duke gave up his successful military career and instead dedicated himself to politics, horses, and the management of his country estate. He was a member of the Privy Council, and Master of the Horse for both Queen Victoria and Edward VII.

Here, the Duke is shown as the archetypal country gentleman, with his dogs at his feet and a rifle on his arm.