Maria Verelst, Dorothy, 2nd Viscountess Townshend (1686–1726)

Photo courtesy of Tom St Aubyn (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
Dorothy, 2nd Viscountess Townshend (1686–1726)
The Belisarius Room
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 127 cm, Overall width: 101.6 cm
Maria Verelst (1680-1744)
Catalogue Number


This picture has traditionally been identified as a portrait of Mary Ashe, Viscountess Townshend (1653–1685) by Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723). However, it does not appear to be of that sitter nor by that artist.

The artist is in fact Maria Verelst (1680–1744), who was commissioned to paint several portraits of women and children of the Townshend family between c.1710 and c.1726. This particular portrait formula – the pose, style of dress and building in the background – can be securely attributed to Verelst, as the artist signed and dated a portrait of Lady Grisel Baillie of an identical style and format, inscribed with the sitter’s name and ‘Mrs. Verelst P. 1725’ (Lord Haddington, Mellerstain House, Borders). A number of other portraits of women with this compositional formula exist, mostly misattributed to Kneller. The original iteration of this portrait type appears to be a portrait of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough known now only from an engraving and attributed previously to Lely and Kneller (1862,0614.1203) but now accepted as Verelst.

The portrait of the Duchess of Marlborough in black mourning clothes must post-date her husband’s death, on 15 June 1722, meaning that the present portrait of Lady Townshend must date from some time between late 1722 and her death in 1726. The present portrait lacks the small fountain seen in other painted versions of the scene and prints after the original: perhaps the omission of this detail was made for reasons of time and cost or on the specific request of the patron. Four other paintings of members of the Townshend family in the Raynham Hall collection – RN4, RN6, RN75 and RN86 – have also been re-attributed to Verelst.

The sitter in the present portrait has traditionally been identified as Mary Ashe, Viscountess Townshend (1653–1685; see RN68), wife of Horatio Townshend. However, Mary Ashe died long before 1722, the earliest accepted dating of the current work. The plump round face, large eyes, rosebud lips and long chestnut locks of the sitter instead bear resemblance to Dorothy, 2nd Viscountess Townshend (1686–1726). Visual comparison with another portrait of Dorothy, by Kneller, which is hung near the present portrait in the Belisarius Room at Raynham (RN70), and other portraits of her, confirm the likeness. Dorothy, or ‘Dolly’, was the sister of Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford. She married (as his second wife) her brother’s childhood friend and Whig colleague, Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend of Raynham (1675–1738) on 6 July 1713. They had eleven children together. Dorothy died, possibly of smallpox, on 29 March 1726.

by Emily Burns


Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, ed. Rev. Edmund Farrer, vol. 2, Norwich : Jarrold and Sons, 1928, vol. 2, p. 223, no. 1 (‘SIR JOSEPH ASHE, 1st Bart.’)

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