Carey, Countess of Peterborough

Christian Richter


This sumptuous portrait depicts Carey (née Fraser), Countess of Peterborough in a landscape setting. She wears an ochre gown trimmed with pearls over a white underslip and with a royal blue wrap, her only jewellery being large pearl drop earrings.

Watercolour on vellum housed in the original frame with pierced spiral cresting, the reverse inset with leather and bearing an old exhibition label for the Burlington Fine Arts Club. The portrait is accompanied by a receipt for its purchase by Charles Lee from Ernest Renton of Pall Mall, London dated 9 April 1883.

Born in 1658, Carey was the only child of Sir Alexander Fraser, principal physician to King Charles II, and his wife Mary (née Carey). At the age of 14, she was chosen to be a maid of honour to Queen Catherine of Braganza, a role she fulfilled for six years. In 1678, being still under the age of consent, she secretly married her third cousin, Charles, Viscount Mordaunt; together they had a daughter and two sons. Considered one of the most glamourous ladies at Court, Carey’s portrait was painted by Sir Godfrey Kneller as one of the Hampton Court Beauties, a series of eight portraits commissioned by Queen Mary II that continue to hang at Hampton Court Palace. Carey died in May 1709, aged 51. Her husband outlived her by 26 years and strangely went on to make a second secret marriage, this time with an opera singer.

The attribution of this portrait has been subject to debate. When purchased in 1883 (see the accompanying receipt) by Charles Edward Lees, a wealthy industrialist and philanthropist, the portrait was attributed to Bernard Lens. A few years later when exhibited at the Burlington Fine Arts Club, the attribution was altered to Lawrence Crosse. More recently, however, it has become clear that stylistically it is more likely to be by the hand of Christian Richter who painted copies in miniature from oil paintings. A comparable portrait of the Countess was sold in the Albion Collection (Bonhams, April 2004) as by Christian Richter.

Swedish-born Christian Richter (1678-1732) came to England in his early twenties. He excelled as a miniature copyist of large scale portraits by, amongst others, Sir Godfrey Kneller and fellow Swede Michael Dahl. His work was critically well acclaimed by his contemporaries.

Item Ref. 7344

Size: framed, 88 x 70mm + cresting

Provenance: Purchased by Charles E. Lees from Ernest Renton, April 1883 (£20) ; Lees collection, Bonhams, Nov. 1997 (£8,500) ; UK private collection

Exhibited: Burlington Fine Arts Club, 1889 - case 29, no. 37