A sense of drama

Portrait of Elizabeth Delaval, Lady Audley (1757-1785), holding a book, with a water-spaniel, in a landscape. Accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by H.M. Treasury and allocated to the National Trust for display at Seaton Delaval Hall, 2009. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The recent catwalk show at Seaton Delaval Hall discussed in the previous post was inspired by some of the dashing and dramatic women who grew up and lived at the house in the 18th-century.

Portrait of Sophia Delaval, Mrs Jadis (1755-1793), holding a Claude glass to the landscape. Accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by H.M. Treasury and allocated to the National Trust for display at Seaton Delaval Hall, 2009. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

The family was known at the time as the ‘gay Delavals’ because they encouraged travelling players to call at the house, put on plays themselves and subjected visitors to practical jokes.

Portrait of Sarah Delaval, Countess of Tyrconnel (1763-1800) with a white peahen, in a landscape. Accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by H.M. Treasury and allocated to the National Trust for display at Seaton Delaval Hall, 2009. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

There are stories of bedroom walls suddenly being hoisted up like theatre scenery, of a bed being flooded with water and of a bedroom with upside-down furnishings designed to unsettle guests who had had too much to drink.

Portrait of Frances Delaval, the Hon. Mrs Fenton Cawthorne (1759-1839), with a watercolour of a rose, in a landscape. Accepted in lieu of inheritance tax by H.M. Treasury and allocated to the National Trust for display at Seaton Delaval Hall, 2009. ©National Trust Images/John Hammond

These slightly naive but rather vivid portraits, attributed to Edward Alcock (fl. 1757–1778), show just a few of the 18th-century Delaval women: four of the five daughters of John Hussey Delaval, Lord Delaval, and his wife Susanna Robinson.

9 Responses to “A sense of drama”

  1. Hels Says:

    I love 18th century single of family portraits set in the landscape of the family’s country home. Yes the pillars and curtains are overly theatrical, but these portraits were certainly arresting. And dramatic.

    However these sisters were pale and emaciated. No wonder they all lived short lives, with the exception of Frances Delaval.

  2. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Their looks may owe something to Alcock’s style of painting, and to the paleness-favouring cosmetics of the time :) There is a bit more information about their lives on our collections database (http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/), just do a search for ‘Seaton Alcock’.

  3. columnist Says:

    I do like these portraits. They’re almost Gainsborough-esq, with their elongated faces and impossibly thin figures.

  4. visitinghousesandgardens Says:

    what hair. you could hide a rabbit in those wigs!

  5. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Columnist, speaking of Gainsborough, I always think his portraits look like very elegant aliens :)

    Visiting, hiding rabbits in wigs sounds like a very Delaval type of practical joke :)

  6. style court Says:

    These portraits have me trying to remember if Taschen has ever done a book just on hair — I mean centuries-old coifs like this. I can picture their fashion history book. Wouldn’t the Deleval sisters be great in a volume of tall 18th century hairstyles? I can see postcards in the giftshop too :)

  7. style court Says:

    Oh, p.s., love the elongated dog also!

  8. Emile de Bruijn Says:

    Yes – like you I can see a book entitled ‘The Art of Coiffure’ or something similar, showing the development of hairstyles in period portraits – could be fabulous.

    I will forward your suggestion about postcards of these portraits to the colleagues at Seaton Delaval – I agree that they seem ideal for that.

    Now you mention it, isn’t it fascinating how the silhouettes of the four sisters are all effectively tall thin darts, and how the silhouettes of the water-spaniel and of the peahen seem to echo those, consciously or unconsciously?

  9. style court Says:

    Emile — yes! Darts.

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