Fresh from his success in Paris, in 1753, at the invitation of Lord Bessborough, Liotard travelled to London, where he stayed (with one or two breaks) for two years. Despite charges that were more than double those of the best English painters, he enjoyed "vast business at 25 guineas a head in crayons", as Reynolds complained, and he is estimated to have made between £6000 and £7000 in one year alone. His most presitgious commission came from Augusta, Princess of Wales, for a series of eleven pastels of members of the royal family (now in Windsor); an invoice, dated 15 August, 1755, shows that four of these pastels cost 108 guineas. But there were many other clients: some drawn from the families who had previously encountered the artist on their Grand Tours, chief among them Lord Bessborough himself; others with an interest in being captured in the latest fashion included both aristocrats and artists such as David Garrick and his wife. Thus portraits of the Spencers, Foxes, Cavendishes, Percys and Hydes are all recorded.
Among the most beautiful is the present portrait of Lady Anne Somerset as a girl of about 14 years of age. She is depicted in the simplest of poses, her head turned slightly towards the viewer, her eyes meeting directly; her placid expression combines self-possession with the vulnerability of her youth and perhaps a little anxiety, as she dons the exotic clothing no doubt provided by the artist to assist the magic transformation of the child into the fashionable woman. She wears a dress à la turque which is extraordinarily similar to that worn in a portrait engraved around this time as of Maria, Countess of Coventry; on her head is a feathered velvet cap which again the artist has already used, in a portrait said to be of the vicomtesse de Nettine. Her hair has caused some comment: but the gorgeous abundance of these loose tresses, the last vestige of her minority, no doubt fascinated Liotard (whose famously long beard expressed, paradoxically, age and masculinity): his Continental and eastern sitters would seldom have required him to depict red hair.
Lady Anne Somerset, the eldest child of Charles Noel, 4th Duke of Beaufort (1709-1756) and his wife, née Elizabeth Berkeley (1719-1799), was born on 11 March 1741, nine months after the marriage. At least five siblings followed, among them Henry (1744-1803) who succeeded as 5th Duke when Lady Anne was only 15. It is clear that she had by then already appeared on the London social scene, and she is recorded in London at the same time as Liotard.
On 13 September 1759, she married the young Lord Northampton at Audley Chapel, St George's, Hanover Square, London. A few weeks later, Lady Caroline Fox wrote to her sister, "Talking of brides, I saw a young woman t'other day at Court that pleases me more than any I have seen for years except my own sisters. 'Tis Lady Northampton. She is not a beauty, but so much sense, modesty and air of a woman of fashion both in manner and person make her vastly pleasing."
Her husband, Charles Compton, 7th Earl of Northampton (1737-1763), had taken his seat in the House of Lords a few months previously (in succession to his uncle), having just returned from his Grand Tour. Lord Northampton was a sceptre-bearer at the coronation of George III, 22 September, 1761. When a Venetian embassy came to congratulate George III on his accession, Northampton, whose father had been a diplomat, was a natural choice as a reciprocal ambassador extraordinary to Venice. Named in 1761, it was not until must later, in the following year, that he and Countess set out for Italy. Their only child, Elizabeth, was born on 25.June 1760.
Lord and Lady Northampton reached Venice on 17 October 1762, but only shortly thereafter news reached London that both the husband and wife were suffering from tuberculosis. The Countess embarked on the final journey to Naples without her husband, reaching the city on 17 May 1763, and died the following day. Lord Northampton completed his embassy at the end of May (news of his wife's death was withheld from him) and set off for home a week later, intending to consult Dr. Tronchin in Geneva (as had so many Liotard sitters); he nevertheless died in Lyon later that year.
No invoice has yet been found for this portrait, whose earliest appearance is some years later, in 1779, when the Countess of Lichfield, née Dinah Frankland (c.1719-1779) died. The Lee and Somerset family connections went back several generations. Lady Lichfield's principal devisee and executor was her cousin Lady Pelham, later Countess of Chichester, née Anne Frankland (1734-1813), who gave the pastel of Lady Anne to her mother, Elizabeth, Dowager Duchess of Beaufort, although not without some family discussion: the 5th Duke wrote to her, "If it is your wish to have that picture of Lady Northampton I must undoubtedly resign the desire I had to have it. It is a pretty little picture and I should have been very sorry to have it go into strange hands."
Under the Duchess's will, the 5th Duke received "the Picture of my late dear daughter Lady Anne Somerset afterwards Countess of Northampton drawn by Liotard and given me by Lady Pelham out of Lady Lichfield's collection." The specific bequest, perhaps in recognition of the earlier correspondence with her son, can only refer to a pastel. The identity of the sitter can hardly be questioned.
The question is whether the pictures described in these documents corresponds to the present pastel. The art collections at Badminton had been built up in previous generations, with the 3rd Duke an enthusiastic collector. But the "immense load of debt" accrued during his time, exacerbated by the malversation of the receiver-general, which came to light when Lady Anne's father, the 4th Duke, died, precluded further extensive acquisitions. It is highly improbable that the present work would have come to Badminton by later purchase, or that the family would have purchased a pastel of someone who was not a family member.
The enamel copy of this pastel, now in the Louvre, is not by Liotard. Slightly coarser in execution, it has been convincingly reattributed to Jean-Adam Serre, a close contemporary and associate of Liotard and one of his most convincing copyists. Serre was in London from 1754 to at least 1756, so the Louvre enamel provides no evidence that the present pastel originated outside England. Certainly the pastel cannot be by Serre: there is no evidence that he worked in the medium, and this example is not the work of a neophyte.
Liotard's portrait of Lady Anne Somerset betrays all over the hand of the master, revealing both his genius and his idiosyncracies. Starting with a very thin sheet of vellum (a material eschewed almost entirely by most French pastellists of this period, and employed in England only by a few imitators such a Vispré whose work is far below this in level), the artist has layed his characteristic graded, neutral background against which he has worked with meticulous attention over the entire figure: the very evenness of that hypnotic attention is one of his characteristics which Paris connoisseurs could not understand, but its modernity is a clue to his appeal today. His hallmark lighting is scattered, diffuse and strong -- effects obtainable only in this medium.
Our gratitude to Neil Jeffares for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.