The sitter, the daughter of Edward Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby, and his second wife, the celebrated Irish beauty and actress Elizabeth Farren (1759-1829), whom Lawrence immortalised at the outset of his career in one of the most beguiling of his full-length portraits (exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1790; now New York, the Metropolitan Museum of Art), married Thomas Egerton, 2nd Earl of Wilton. Her husband was the second son of Robert Grosvenor, 1st Marquess of Westminster, one of Britain's richest aristocrats. Born at Eaton Hall, in Cheshire, the Grosvenor family's ancestral home, he had studied at Oxford. He assumed the name Egerton on coming of age in 1821 having become heir to the Earldom of Wilton, and a large accompanying fortune, following the death of his maternal grandfather Thomas Egerton, 1st Earl of Wilton, in 1814. One of the most distinguished sportsmen of his generation, Thomas Grosvenor counted among his friends the Duke of Wellington, Count d'Orsay, Sir Francis Grant and Benjamin Disraeli. His wife was to become one of the Duke of Wellington's closest friends and principal female correspondents (much of their correpondence survives at Stratfield Saye, the Duke of Wellington's ancestral home). Among their estates were Heaton Hall, Manchester, where they entertained lavishly, and a large tract of land near Melton Mowbray, as well as the Manor of Oxenhope. A chalk drawing of the Countess of Wilton by Lawrence was sold at the artist's posthumous studio sale in these Rooms, 19 June 1830, as lot 410.
The Countess of Wilton sat for her portrait in 1829, the year before Lawrence's tragically premature death aged only sixty. Lawrence, who had been elected President of the Royal Academy in 1820, was then at the height of both his ability and reputation. In the last decade of his life his sitters were drawn from the highest ranks of society and public life as well as the worlds of literature and the arts, including such eminent figures as Sir Robert Peel, Lord Castlereagh, George Canning, Lord Brougham, William Wilberforce, Sir Walter Scott and John Nash. In this portrait Lawrence succeeds in capturing both Lady Wilton's youth and her quiet beauty. The years of the reign of King George IV (1820-30) were a period of glitter and extravagance in dress and entertainment with an increasing emphasis on fashion, and Lawrence makes much of Lady Wilton's fashionable red dress and jewellery which emphasise her elegance and social standing. This portrait can be compared to other exceptional female portraits from the latter part of Lawrence's career, such as his portrait of Princess Sophia, King George III's fifth daughter, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1825 (The Royal Collection); Julia, Lady Peel (c. 1826; New York, Frick Collection); and that of the Hon. Seymour Bathurst (1828; Dallas Museum of Art).
This portrait, which descended in the sitter's family until 1868, was later in the collection of the de Roussel family, by whom it was eventually sold in 1932, when it was probably acquired by the widow of Jules Patenôtre. Patenôtre, who had been French Ambassador to the United States of America from 1893 until 1897, had married Eleanor Elverson, a considerable American heiress, in 1894. His wife was to inherit a large newspaper business from her brother 'Colonel' James Elverson on his death, which included, among others, The Philadelphia Tribune, The Bulletin, The Philadelphia Record and The Philadelphia Inquirer. The Philadelphia Inquirer was known as the 'Republican Bible of Pennysylvania'. The Patenôtre family eventually sold The Philadelphia Inquirer to Moses Annenberg in 1936.