This drawing is taken from a series of 125 profile portraits by Count Alfred d’Orsay, made between about 1828 and 1850 and published by J. Mitchell of Bond Street. 61 similar drawings for the series and several engraved versions are now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. The sitters were all well-known artists, writers and socialites and this example shows archaeologist Sir William Gell.
William Gell was born in Derbyshire and educated at Derby School and Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In 1803 he was sent on a diplomatic mission to the Ionian Islands, for which he was knighted in 1814. Gell later accompanied Caroline, Princess of Wales as a chamberlain on her travels to Italy and gave evidence in her defence at her trial in 1820. As a result she granted him a pension of £200 per annum, allowing him to spend the rest of his career studying antiquities in Italy. From about 1815 Gell began to suffer from gout and rheumatism, eventually dying in Naples in 1836.
Many of his archaeological drawings are now in the collections of the British Museum, London, and the Benaki Museum in Athens. His publications include ‘The Geography and Antiquities of Ithaca’ (1807) and ‘The Itinerary of Greece’ (1810).
Alfred, Count d’Orsay, dandy and amateur artist, was born in Paris, the son of one of Napoleon’s generals. He met Lord and Lady Blessington in 1822 and was romantically interested in Lady Blessington. Perhaps to divert D’Orsay’s attention from his wife, Lord Blessington wrote a will leaving his Irish property to one of his daughters, should either marry Count D’Orsay. D’Orsay chose 15 year old Lady Harriet Anne Gardiner and the couple married in Naples in 1827. It was not a happy union. Following the death of Lord Blessington and the breakdown of the Count’s marriage, D’Orsay and Lady Blessington became a prominent couple in fashionable society. D’Orsay died in Paris in 1852, having fled there with Lady Blessington to escape his debts.
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