Chazen Museum of Art

Blog Tag: Diana Princess of Wales

Portrait of Lady Spencer: The Chazen's connection to Diana, Princess of Wales

Posted August 30, 2017 by Michelle Michiko Prestholt

In honor of the twentieth anniversary of the tragic death of Diana, Princess of Wales, the Chazen Museum would like to highlight our portrait of the Princess’s great-great-great-great grandmother, Margaret Georgiana Spencer (née Poyntz), the Countess Spencer (1737–1814). The enamel on copper Portrait of Lady Spencer was completed in 1833 by Henry Pierce Bone (1779­­ –1855) after an earlier work by Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792).

Georgiana, as she preferred to be called, was married to John, the first Earl Spencer (1734–1783). Their marriage was a love match, a rarity for their time. Despite not possessing a title himself at the time of their courtship, John came from a noble family and was the most eligible bachelor in Britain after inheriting an enormous fortune from his great-grandmother. The Spencer family disapproved of Georgiana’s lesser wealth and her family’s connections to trade, but the couple persisted, waiting until John’s twenty-first birthday, at which time he no longer required his family’s permission to marry. In 1755, John and Georgiana married in a secret ceremony in the Oak Bedroom of Althorp, the traditional seat of the Spencer family, where Princess Diana herself grew up and is interred.

John’s loyalty to the Whig party in the House of Commons earned him the reward of an earldom, allowing him to become the first Earl Spencer in 1765. The Earl and the Countess Spencer were both highly educated and were enthusiastic patrons of writers and artists. They spent lavishly to build a London home, named Spencer House, to hold their art collection. The Countess Spencer was well known in London society as a fashionable hostess and philanthropist, giving her time and money to various charitable organizations.

Further breaking with the traditions of their era and status, the Earl and Countess Spencer were demonstratively doting parents to their three children. Lady Spencer’s favorite child was her eldest daughter and namesake, the infamous Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire (1757–1806), who was portrayed by Kiera Knightley in the 2008 film The Duchess. After the Earl Spencer’s death in 1783 at the young age of 48, Lady Spencer took an active role in the education and upbringing of her numerous grandchildren. Lady Spencer maintained her reputation as an influential and esteemed member of British society until her death at the age of 76 in 1814.

Henry Pierce Bone, (English, 1779­­–1855), Portrait of Lady Spencer, 1833, enamel
on copper, Gift in memory of Mrs. Frederick W. Miller, 1992.332

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