John Singer Sargent

Close up of John Singer Sargent portrait of Winifred Duchess of Portland

The Portland Collection is renowned for its portraiture. The works by John Singer Sargent (1856 – 1925), commissioned in the early 20th-century, capture the grandeur and luxury of the Welbeck estate – and its place in Edwardian society.

Sargent was a prolific painter who produced over 900 paintings and 2000 watercolours. He made gorgeous, traditional portraits in a light and fluid style and until recently his paintings were dismissed by many art critics as ‘crowd-pleasers’ and not serious art – compared to other artists at the time like Pablo Picasso.

This artist who painted glamorous high-society portraits in the manner of Van Dyck at the dawn of the modern age is easily mistaken for a conservative throwback […]  but what makes him so original and haunting is the way he combines tour de force brushwork he learned from the French with an acute interest in human psychology.
Jonathan Jones, The Guardian

Painting the Portlands

John Singer Sargent, Winifred Duchess of Portland, 1902. The Duchess wears a full length white dress, red robe and dramatic ruff.

John Singer Sargent, Winifred Duchess of Portland, 1902 © Harley Foundation, The Portland Collection


The image above is Sargent’s life-size portrait of Winifred, Duchess of Portland (1863 – 30 July 1954).She was considered to be one of the great beauties of the generation, and this portrait captures her in a romantic ruff which is reminiscent of the earlier portraits in The Portland Collection.

Unusually, Sargent painted the Duchess at home – rather than in his studio. The portrait shows her stood by the fireplace in the Red Drawing Room at Welbeck Abbey. The painting was commissioned by the Duchess’ husband the 6th Duke of Portland as a complement to his own portrait which Sargent had painted two years earlier.  The Duke was delighted by the painting:

John S. Sargent, R.A., who is considered by many to be perhaps the greatest portrait painter since Sir Joshua Reynolds and Sir Thomas Lawrence, was also an intimate and valued friend of ours. In 1902 he stayed with us for nearly a month, and during that time he painted the well-known picture of my wife. […] When it was finished the canvas remained in the empty room, and one of our friends – Lady Helen Vincent, now Lady D’Abernon – who happened to look through the window, tapped on the glass and called my wife’s name. Later in the day she met my wife and asked her, ‘Why were you so haughty this morning, and wouldn’t answer when I tapped on the window?’ Sargent was very pleased when he heard of this.
The 6th Duke of Portland, Men, Women and Things

Here, the Duke is shown as the archetypal country gentleman, with his dogs at his feet and a rifle on his arm.

John Singer Sargent, The 6th Duke of Portland, 1900. The Duke is stood with two dogs sat at his feet.

John Singer Sargent, The 6th Duke of Portland, 1900. © Harley Foundation, The Portland Collection



Rebecca Hardy

Rebecca Hardy

Rebecca Hardy trained as a fine artist and has been working in the culture sector for over a decade. She writes for a number of publications on topics such as art history, contemporary exhibitions, and museum marketing.