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This royal portrait shows Queen Victoria in a crimson dress and a Spanish feathered hat, riding a grey horse across the Great Park at Windsor. The composition takes inspiration from Joseph Bouvier’s lithograph Queen Victoria on horseback, in the Royal Park Windsor published in c.1837. Count D’Orsay’s painting was made in response to a bet. The artist felt there was no ‘creditable resemblance of Her Majesty’ and boasted that he could paint a better likeness from memory than any portrait produced from sittings. The Earl of Cardigan wagered the artist a thousand guineas that he could not. However, the Count’s advantage was his box at the French Theatre (St. James’s Theatre), located directly opposite the Queen’s. After studying her features during theatre performances, D’Orsay ‘returned each morning to the portrayal’ of her features. Upon completion, the painting was exhibited at Mr. Griffith’s Gallery in Pall Mall in 1847 where it was seen by The Queen and Prince Albert, accompanied by Wellington. Albert, in particular, is reported to have been ‘highly delighted’ with the painting. However, whether any of the party helped to facilitate the engraving is not clear.
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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