Ada, Countess of Lovelace wears a white dress and red cape trimmed with gold in this work by the prolific portrait painter Margaret Carpenter. Ada was the daughter of Lord Byron, the product of the poet’s year-long marriage to Annabella Milbanke in 1815. She was raised by her mother and became a mathematician, assisting Charles Babbage in his work on mechanical computers.
This work was painted in 1836, the year the first of Ada’s three children was born to her and her husband, William King, eighth Baron King of Ockham (created Earl of Lovelace in 1838). The portrait was well received when exhibited at the Royal Academy that year. However, Ada’s own response to Carpenter’s truthful likeness of herself was to quip:
‘I conclude she is bent on displaying the whole expanse of my capacious jaw bone, upon which I think the word Mathematics should be written.’
A note in ‘The Spectator’ of 1839 favours Carpenter’s ‘chaste and lady-like portrait’ of Ada over a now well-known watercolour portrait, painted some three years later by Alfred Edward Chalon, which is described as showing the sitter ‘courting admiration’. The watercolour is now in the collection of the Science Museum, London.
Margaret Sarah Carpenter was born Margaret Geddes in Salisbury, Wiltshire; the daughter of a retired army officer. She studied under a local artist and copied Old Master paintings at the Earl of Radnor’s Longford Castle. The Earl helped fund her move to London in 1813, following which she won three gold medals at the Society of Arts. In c.1815 she was a pupil of Thomas Lawrence. She married William Hookham Carpenter and had eight children, three of whom died in infancy. Three surviving children would become painters. She lived in Marylebone before moving to the British Museum in 1852, her husband being Keeper of Prints and Drawings. She received over 100 commissions from Eton College and produced some 1,100 works in total, exhibiting 263.
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