The Duke of Marlborough

Richard Cosway (1742-1821)


It was not unusual for Richard Cosway to paint his sitters in historical costume especially as he himself often liked to wear fanciful attire. Here the Duke is depicted as a Roman senator with a red cloak fastened on one shoulder.

Educated at Eton and a graduate of Oxford University, George Spencer-Churchill, 5th Duke of Marlborough (1766-1840) was a politician who aligned himself initially with the Whig Party before switching to the Tories. Outside politics he was a noted (and extravagant) bibliophile with a celebrated library. In his private life he married Lady Susan, daughter of the 7th Earl of Galloway, in 1791 and later had an affair with a local girl, Matilda Glover, who ousted the Duchess from the family home at Blenheim Palace. The Duke and his mistress had three children together.

As one of his most illustrious patrons, Cosway painted Marlborough on several occasions including an oil portrait and a full-length drawing that was later engraved. This portrait is believed to be possibly the last miniature painted by Cosway and dates to around 1819 when the Duke first took up with Matilda.

Painted in Cosway’s muted palette and using his often favoured hexagonal format, the portrait is set in the original gilt metal ormolu frame. It has tonal fading but is otherwise fine.

Item Ref. 7210

Size: framed, 81 x 68mm

Provenance: By family descent via Matilda Glover to Sarah Marshall Bernstein