Mrs Anne Mee
This alluring portrait of Caroline St Jules in a décolleté charcoal grey dress was most likely painted as a gift for her future husband George Lamb whom she married in 1807 at the age of twenty-two.
Born in lowly circumstances in Italy in 1785, Caroline Rosalie was the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Devonshire and Lady Elizabeth (Bess) Foster whose best friend was Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Her mother somehow persuaded the elderly Comte St Jules to adopt the child though she was cared for by foster parents. Schooled initially in Paris, Bess finally succeeded in bringing her daughter to England where she discreetly joined her father’s legitimate family. Caroline was reputed to be her father’s favourite child.
Despite the setback of being illegitimate, Caroline married well. Her husband, George Lamb, was the son of Lady Melbourne and the younger brother of William Lamb who was married to Caroline’s half-sister, also named Caroline. Thereafter they became known as Caro George and Caro William, the latter being notorious for her affair with Byron. Caroline and George’s marriage was childless and unhappy: he was reputed to be neglectful of her and a drunk. This spurred Caroline into having an affair though she later reconciled with her husband who died in 1834. Caroline went on to enjoy 28 years of widowhood.
Painted by the well-listed artist Anne Mee, the portrait is set in a gold frame that is chased around the outer edge and backed with foiled blue glass.
Working during the early nineteenth century, Anne Mee was one of a small group of professional female miniature artists. From an early age she assisted her father, a portrait artist, in his studio but it was his unexpected death that propelled her to forge a career in miniature painting to provide for her mother and numerous siblings. Throughout her career she enjoyed Royal patronage culminating in a commission from the Prince Regent, later George IV, to paint an ambitious series of portraits of the most beautiful society ladies of the day. Following her marriage to an Irish barrister, Mrs Mee had six children. She continued to paint though, according to the diarist Joseph Farington, her husband only ‘consented to let her paint ladies only who were never to be attended [at the sittings] by gentlemen’. She exhibited intermittently at the Royal Academy between 1804 and 1837; further examples of her work can be viewed at the V. & A. Museum in London.
Item Ref. 9051M
Size: framed, 82 x 65mm
Provenance: Private UK Collection