Irish & International Art Online Sale ends 18th April 2023 between 6.30 pm and 9.oo pm at Morgan O’Driscoll, Skibbereen, Co. Cork. Includes a painting and two drawings by Sir William Orpen.
LOT 60 – Portrait of Lady Gerard.
Estimate: €20,000 – €30,000.
SOLD €23,000 Hammer Price.
Christie’s, London, 8th November 1990, lot 48;
Christie’s, Dublin, 29th June 1994, lot 186;
Christie’s, London, 9th May 1996, lot 106;
Collection of Sir Michael Smurfit;
Sotheby’s, London, 22nd November 2022, lot 257;
Portrayed standing in a Titianesque pose, one elbow resting on a plinth, in front of a curtain drawn back to reveal a cloudy sky, the subject of this portrait, Mary Emmeline Laura, Baroness Gerard, was one of the Marlborough House Set, a group of wealthy aristocrats that surrounded Prince Edward and occasionally became involved in the politics of the day. Her dress is an elaborate Tudor-revival design, of ruffed green silk embellished with lacework. Mary Emmeline was fond of partying and dressing up: a photograph, taken during a fancy dress ball celebrating Queen Victoria’s sixtieth year on the throne, shows her in the guise of “Astarte, Goddess of the Moon”. Hosting the event, the Duchess of Devonshire was decked up as “Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra”, while the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava came as “Flora, Goddess of Flowers”. Born in 1854, Mary Emmeline was the daughter of Henry Beilby William Milner and Charlotte Beresford. Her grandfather, Marcus Gervaise Beresford, was Archbishop of Armagh. In 1877, she married army officer William Gerard, second Baron Gerard of Bryn. His estate, at Eastwell Park in Kent, had once been the home of Prince Albert, younger brother of Edward VII. They had two children, Ethel and Frederick. Five years after the Devonshire House party, on 11th February 1904, at Garswood in Lancashire, her daughter Ethel married the recently-divorced Maurice Arnold de Forest, Graf von Bendern. A hereditary baron in the Austrian aristocracy, de Forest had been adopted by the wealthy banker Baron Hirsch and educated at Eton and Oxford. He was an officer in the Staffordshire Yeomanry and a friend of Winston Churchill. However de Forest’s pride and joy were his boats; the one thousand-ton steam yacht Honor and a 52-foot sailing yacht, Magdalen, the latter built for him in 1902 by Fifes. Ethel shared his love of yachting and the couple lived at Spenser House in St. James, London, or at the country estate he rented from Lord Northbrook.
This portrait of Mary Emmeline, painted by Orpen in May 1903 (and completed the following year) was clearly intended as a statement. Although recently widowed, the Baroness was determined that she should be seen as an independent and confident woman. In Bruce Arnold’s biography of Orpen, he describes how the painter worked on the canvas at Eastwell Park, distracted by the attentions of various members of the household. At the time of painting this portrait, he was at the beginning of his career, having graduated from the Slade School of Art and married Grace Knewstub two years previously. He had set up a school in Chelsea and also taught at the Metropolitan School of Art in Dublin. Many of Orpen’s portraits are painted in the characteristic bravura style of this work, and yet he seems to have grown to dislike the elite social circles in which he moved. At the outbreak of World War I, he was appointed an Official War Artist, which led to some of his finest work. The portrait of Mary Emmeline, which cost seventy-five pounds, was likely intended as a gift, to hang in Ethel’s new family home. Mary Emmeline died in 1918, aged 63.
Text from Morgan O’Driscoll catalogue by Peter Murray, March 2023.
Orpen’s book – An Onlooker in France 1917-1919 with Artist’s self-portrait inside the cover.
ESTIMATE: €2,000 – €3,000.
SOLD: €3,200 Hammer price.
Study of a Young Boy (1911).
ESTIMATE: €800 – €1,200.
SOLD: €1,800 Hammer Price.
Post by Dominic Lee, Orpen Research Archives.