Lost portrait of 17th-century feminist to go on display for first time

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A re-discovered portrait of Lady Anne Clifford has been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery.

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Previously lost, and recorded only through literary references, the painted portrait was discovered in a European private collection.

The portrait, clearly recognisable as Anne by comparison with other paintings of her, was sold to the National Portrait Gallery for £275,000.

The daughter of George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland, and Margaret Russell, daughter of Francis, 2nd Earl of Bedford, Lady Anne Clifford is now seen as a proto-feminist.

Born in 1589 at Skipton Castle, Lady Anne’s life was dominated by her extended and very public attempts to claim what she believed was rightfully her inheritance from her father, who had left her money, but bequeathed his very extensive properties to Anne’s uncle.

Through archival research and legal disputes, the Countess of Dorset and later Countess of Pembroke was successful in at least part of her claims.

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She eventually inherited most of the disputed estates on the death of her uncle and cousin, and became famous in her latter years for her extensive building and restoration works on her castles and churches in the north of England.

Lady Anne restored to their former glory the mostly ruinous family castles – Skipton, Pendragon, Appleby, Brough and Brougham – and built almshouses for poor widows in Appleby.

She also commissioned a number of works of family history, among them three ‘Great Books of record’ including an autobiography, a book about her father’s voyages and a book of her mother’s letters.

Upon her death, Lady Anne was probably the wealthiest woman in England.

Her diary entry records that she sat for the artist William Larkin during the summer of 1618, at the age of 28.

Larkin produced two portraits – one that stayed at Knole in Kent, and the rediscovered one which was sent to her cousin.

The latter was discovered by Mark Weiss of the Weiss Gallery, in a European private collection.

Its acquisition was made possible by a £70,000 donation from the Art Fund, more than £45,000 in private contributions, and the National Portrait Gallery’s portrait fund acquisition budget.

Mark Weiss of the Weiss Gallery said: “The last recorded sighting of the painting was at a Christie’s sale in 1956. By this time the correct identity both of artist and sitter had long been lost.

“The name of the buyer was Kretscher, and the painting then re-surfaced in a German private collection where I discovered it about eight years ago whilst doing a valuation.

“I immediately recognised it as being the ‘lost’ documented portrait of Anne Clifford, as I have a particular knowledge of the artist having bought and sold over seven other works by this rare painter.”

Catharine MacLeod, curator of 17th-century portraits at the National Portrait Gallery, said: “It is very exciting to be able to represent such a fascinating and prominent 17th-century woman with such a beautiful portrait.

“The modelling of the face is particularly refined and subtle, conveying a sense of individuality and personality unusual in English portraiture at this time.”

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Lady Anne Clifford by William Larkin will go on display in the National Portrait Gallery from spring 2014.