Portrait of Hyacinthe Gabrielle Roland, Countess of Mornington
(Louise Vigée Le Brun)


As a devoted Monarchist and friend of the Queen, Vigée chose exile during the revolution, first taking up residence (as was her right as an Academician) in the Villa Medici, the home of the French Academy in Rome. Able at least to earn her living, unlike so many of the French emigres who were forced to rely on the charity of friends and relations, she continued her successful career as a society portraitist, albeit not confining herself to French sitters.

Joseph Baillio, in the catalogue of the Vigée exhibition held at Fort Worth and in several articles, has remarked on the influence of Rubens on Mme Vigée Lebrun and the direct connection here with the portrait of the artist’s wife, Helene Fourment in a Fur Coat (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) is immediately apparent. However, as Baillio has pointed out, Vigée could not have seen the painting in person and must have known it either from a print or copy. This is by no means the only one of Vigée’s portraits that looks to Rubens but, in its informality and the immediately engaging attitude of the sitter, it is the furthest from the usual conventions of French portraiture. While emphasizing and sometimes idealizing her female sitters most attractive features was one of her particular accomplishments, we know from contemporary descriptions of Mlle Roland’s charms that in this portrait the artist has not succumbed to any pressure to unduly flatter her subject. It may be noted that the artist apparently originally intended the portrait to be made in an oval form but, while painting, changed her mind and extended it over the whole canvas. The more open composition serves to emphasize the drama of the figure, standing, like several other Vigée portraits (notably the Portrait of the Duchess of Caderousse, in Kansas City, Portrait of a Woman, Boston, Museum of Fine Arts and Portrait of Mme Mole Raymond, Paris, Louvre), against a rich blue sky with a hint of a setting sun.

Hyacinthe-Gabrielle Roland was of modest origins, the daughter of Pierre Roland and Hyacinthe-Gabrielle Daris. It is uncertain where she met her future husband, the Earl of Mornington (later Marquess Wellesley), but it has been suggested that they encountered each other in the Palais Royal, which says little for the reputation of either. Certainly she “exercised a powerful influence over the heart of the noble Lord… [and] … seems to have possessed many of the fascinating qualities of her distinguished synonyme, Madame Roland”. By 1791, when Vigée painted her portrait, Mlle Roland and Lord Mornington had already lived together as man and wife for six years and she was the mother of three children.

Marquess Wellesley (as he is generally known to history) was widely remarked upon for his inordinate vanity. Farington noted that he had “ruined His fortune by His excessive expenses on Women ….. Lawrence has noticed, when His Lordship sat to him for His portrait, that His Lips were painted”. His affection for the opposite sex had led him to the perhaps imprudent relationship with Mlle Roland whom, despite her unsuitability as the wife of the British Monarch’s representative in India, he married at Saint George’s, Hanover Square, on November 29th, 1794. They had already had five illegitimate children by this date, all of whom were to survive both parents but, being born before their parent’s marriage, could not succeed to their father’s titles. Marchioness Wellesley, as she became in 1799, never learnt to speak more than few words of English and, perhaps because of the slights she received after her marriage, was ill at ease in society. She did not accompany her husband to India and this separation put an unwarranted strain on their relationship. Following his return they maintained separate establishments, Lord Wellesley having given his wife an annuity of L4000 per annum (which reverted to her children after her death). Lady Wellesley died at the home of her eldest daughter, the future Lady Hatherton, on November 7th, 1816.

While our painting passed to her elder daughter and eventually to the latter’s descendants by her husband, the 1st Baron Hatherton, the descendants of our sitter’s second daughter, Anne, are of greater interest. Evidently embodying something of her mother’s passionate and wayward nature, Anne had first married Sir William Abdy, 7th Baronet, in 1806 but the marriage was unsuccessful. To the scandal of society she was divorced by act of Parliament in 1816, marrying less than three weeks later Lieutenant-Colonel Lord William Cavendish-Bentinck, as his second wife. Their eldest son Charles was the father of Nina Cavendish-Bentinck who was to marry the 14th Earl of Strathmore and was herself the mother of H.M. Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Hence the direct descendant of Mlle Roland now sits on the throne of Great Britain as Queen Elizabeth II.
Acquired by the Museum of Fine Arts, San Francisco

39 by 29 1/2 ins. 99 by 75 cm.
Oil on canvas

By descent to the Hatherton family, until the 1930’s; Lord Sanderson of Ayot; Anonymous Sale, Christie’s, London, June 26, 1964, lot 74; with Duits, London, 1965; with Schaeffer Galleries, New York, 1967; Mrs. Elizabeth Parke Firestone.


E.L. Vigee Le Brun, Souvenirs, 1835-1837, 1869 edition, I, p. 162, II, p. 366; P. de Nolhac, Vigee Le Brun, 1908, p. 94; P. de Nolhac, Madame Vigee Le Brun, 1912, p. 162; A. Blum, Madame Vigee Le Brun, 1914, pp. 56 and 100; W.H. Helm, Vigee Le Brun, 1915, pp. 111 and 219; C. Duits, in “Portrait of Mademoiselle Roland (later the Marchioness Wellesley) by Madame Vigee Le Brun”, Duits, Quarterly, no. 9, Winter, 1965, pp. 11-16, illustrated in color p. 12; J. Baillio, “Vigee Le Brun and the Classical Practice of Imitation”, in “Paris, Center of Artistic Enlightenment”, Papers in Art History from the Pennsylvania State University, IV, pp. 94ff., fig. 4-25.

Where is It?
Acquired by the San Francisco Museums
Historical Period
Neoclassicism - 1780-1820
Price band
Sold or not available