George Romney, Lady Charlotte Townshend (1776–1856)

Photo courtesy of Tom St Aubyn (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
Lady Charlotte Townshend (1776–1856)
The Red Saloon
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 75 cm, Overall width: 65 cm
George Romney (1734-1802)
Catalogue Number
  • Lettered top left in yellow paint: ‘DUCHESS OF LEEDS/ DAUGHTER OF/ MARQUESS TOWNSHEND’


Lady Charlotte Townshend (1776–1856) was one of six children of George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend (1724–1807) and his second wife Anne Montgomery (c.1752–1819), mistress of the robes for Caroline, Princess of Wales. On 17 August 1797, Charlotte married George William Frederick Osborne, Marquess of Carmarthen, eventually 6th Duke of Leeds (1775–1838), at East Rainham, Kent, with whom she had three children. This portrait is displayed within an overmantel designed originally by William Kent in the so-called Red Saloon, though now painted white and gilded in some areas. 

Duleep Singh, in the catalogue published in 1928, identified the artist responsible for RN5 as John Opie (1761–1807), an attribution endorsed by Oliver Millar. It can now be confirmed, however, that it is by George Romney. In his ledger Romney noted that he began the portrait on 22 July 1796, at which time he also received a first payment of £20. It was completed by early August when Romney told his friend and patron William Hayley that he had painted ‘a lovely daughter of Lady Townshend’.1 According to the ledger, the portrait was commissioned by ‘Colonel Barry’, who can be identified possibly as Colonel Henry Barry (1750–1822), aide-de-camp to Lord Rawdon in the American Revolutionary War. The nature of Colonel Barry’s relationship with the sitter is unknown. What is known is that a copy of the portrait was ordered at the same time.2 Alex Kidson, who did not know of the existence of the version of the portrait at Raynham when he published the catalogue raisonné of Romney’s paintings in 2015, assumed that the original version was the picture which descended through the family of Lady Townshend’s husband, the Duke of Leeds.3 Having since seen a photograph of the portrait at Raynham, Kidson is of the opinion that it is Romney’s original.

In 1762 George Romney, the son of a cabinet-maker, moved from Kendal in the Lake District to London where he eventually positioned himself as one of the main rivals in society portraiture to Joshua Reynolds, although he had no association with the Royal Academy, preferring to build his career independently. In 1773, he travelled to Italy to study first-hand the art of the past. He returned to London two years later, at which time he developed a more spontaneous and rapid painting method, becoming at the same time one of London’s most fashionable portrait painters. During the 1790s, when he painted the present portrait of Charlotte Townshend, his health declined and he suffered increasing bouts of debility and depression. While he continued to accept portrait commissions to sustain himself financially, during this period he experimented with grandiose historical and literary subjects. In 1799 he returned to his estranged wife in Kendal, where he died three years later.

by Emily Knight and Martin Postle


Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, ed. Rev. Edmund Farrer, vol. 2, Norwich : Jarrold and Sons, 1928, vol. 2, pp. 225–6, no. 11 (‘CHARLOTTE OSBORNE, DUCHESS OF LEEDS’)

Paul Mellon Centre Archive, Oliver Millar, 'Notes on a Visit to Raynham Hall', ONM/1/22, 8 April 1995, p. 25


  1. Alex Kidson, George Romney: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 3 vols, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015, vol. 2, p. 585, no. 1312.

  2. As Kidson notes, ibid., the original was priced at 30 guineas and the copy at 30 guineas, a second payment of £16 15s being for the original being made to Romney on 28 April 1797.

  3. Ibid. Kidson tentatively suggested that yet another version of the portrait may have been the copy in question, though noting that the latter was oval in shape and that the sitter was depicted in a white dress; ibid., no. 1312a.


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