Viscountess Duncannon (1761–1821)
(Lady Henrietta Ponsonby (née Henrietta Spencer)
(later Countess of Bessborough))
Mezzotint by Joseph Grozer (c.1755-1798)
after Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)
Published circa 1756
40 cm x 28.1 cm
Narrow margins and laid down.
Private collection U.K.
Portrait after Reynolds, sitter half-length to front, angled right semi-profile, with bouquet of roses attached to her shawl below décolletage and set against a landscape of trees. Lettered beneath the image with title "Viscountess Duncannon / Sister to her Grace the Duchess of Devonshire" and production detail: "Painted by Sir J. Reynolds P.R.A.", "Wm. Austin exudit", "Engraved by J. Grozer", with the final state of the publication line: "Publish'd as the Act directs March 31st 1786 by Wm. Austin, Drawing Master, Engraver and Print Merchant, No.195 Piccadilly near St. James Church, London"
The sitter is Henrietta Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough (16 June 1761–11 November 1821) whilst she was styled Viscountess Duncannon. Born Lady Henrietta Frances Spencer (and generally called Harriet), she became the wife of Frederick Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon (and later 3rd Earl of Bessborough); the couple were the parents of Lady Caroline Lamb (1785–1828). Her father, John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer, was a great-grandson of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough. Her sister was Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, to whom she was very close.
Harriet's marriage to Frederick Ponsonby was notoriously unhappy, although they had four children together (the most famous of whom was certainly Lady Caroline Lamb). In search of happiness, Harriet became addicted to gambling and amassed thousands of pounds of debt. In 1789 she embarked on an affair with Richard Brinsley Sheridan and was caught in flagrante delicto with him by her husband who threatened divorce. Harriet only escaped a ruinous separation through the intervention of her sister's powerful Cavendish connections, who sided with her against her the abusive Viscount Duncannon and made it ill-advisable for him to seek the dissolution of their marriage. They maintained an uneasy union until her death.
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