The sitter was the daughter of Sir Jeremyn Davers, Bt., of Rushbrooke Park, and his wife, Margaretta, daughter of the Reverend Edward Green. In 1752, she married Frederick Augustus Hervey (1730-1803), 4th Earl of Bristol, with whom she had three daughters and two sons, John Augustus, Lord Hervey, and Frederick William, later 5th Earl and 1st Marquess of Bristol.
Elizabeth Hervey's husband, one of the most remarkable and eccentric men of his generation, was an inveterate traveller and a passionate art collector; J. Ingamells, editor of A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701-1800, described him as: 'a capricious patron of the fine arts, an indiscreet and witty conversationalist, and an eager student of geology, vulcanology and antiquity' (Dictionary compiled from the Brinsley Ford Archive, London, 1997, p.126). As the third son of Lord John Hervey (1696-1743), eldest son of the 1st Earl of Bristol, Frederick Hervey had thought initially of a legal career, but decided to opt for the church. When his elder brother, the 3rd Earl of Bristol, was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1766, he was appointed his chaplain. His brother later secured for him the Bishoprics of Cloyne (1767) and Derry (1768). Having increased the income from his Derry estate to £20,000 a year, Hervey was able to indulge more fully in his passion for travelling and acquiring works of art, which led to increasingly prolonged absences from Ireland.
Frederick Hervey spent a total of eighteen years in Italy over the course of five separate visits. Elizabeth accompanied her husband on his first trip to Italy, between 1765 and 1766, during which Hervey witnessed an eruption of Vesuvius; and his son, John, joined him on his second, from 1770 to 1772, when the pair pursued geological interests. It was during Hervey's third trip to Italy, between 1779 and 1779, with his wife and youngest daughter, Louisa, that he turned his attentions more seriously to the patronage of art; gaining himself a reputation as 'one of the eminent and, at the same time, most open-minded of patrons of the arts' (E.P. Bowron and J.J. Rishel, Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century, Exhibition Catalogue, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2000, p.399). Hervey arrived in Italy with his family in September 1777 and visited Verona, Valdagno, Vicenza, Padua, Bologna and Florence, before travelling to Rome in November. Shortly after his arrival in Rome, Hervey commissioned a portrait of himself by Pompeo Batoni (Private Collection) and this portrait of his wife by Anton von Maron. He also set about acquiring works for the bishopric, commenting: 'I cannot resist the temptation of being extravagant here especially when it is with a view of beautifying dear Ireland' (Ingamells, op.cit, p.127).
News of Frederick Augustus Hervey's succession to the Earldom, as 4th Earl of Bristol, on the death of his elder brother in 1779, reached Rome in January 1780, prompting the Earl-Bishop's (as he was subsequently known) return to Ireland. After which the couple became increasingly estranged. Hervey's income as Bishop of Derry had already enabled him to build a vast mansion at Downhill on the North coast of Co. Londonderry and to embellish his diocese with new churches, however, he was now able to build two other great houses, Ballyscullion, in Co. Londonderry (begun in 1787), and Ickworth, in Suffolk (begun in 1795). These buildings were designed with unusual central rotundas, which were largely conceived to display the magnificent collections he was assembling on his travels.
Prince Augustus of Saxe-Coburg mentioned seeing a portrait of Mrs. Hervey in Anton von Maron's studio in his diary entry for 7 May 1778. The present portrait is one of three known versions of this portrait type. A portrait of the same composition and format as the present picture, signed and dated 1779, is recorded in a private collection; a composition of smaller format is in the Gemäldegalerie, Vienna. The inclusion of the Giant's Causeway in the background of both of the larger format versions alludes to the family's Irish connections and the sitter's husband's geological interests.
For information on the artist please see lot 20.