This sublime 17th-century portrait by French artist Henri Gascar (1635-1701) depicts Louise de Kerouaille (1649-1734), the Duchess of Portsmouth, the favourite mistress of Charles II.
It’s an intimate portrayal, brimming with character yet handled with sensitivity.
Louise de Kerouaille led a fascinating life, one rich with scandal, wealth and the abundant attention of the King. She’s said to have succumbed to his advances in 1671 at Euston Hall, Suffolk - an incident that caused endless chatter at court. Some viewed her as a fallen woman, others were green with envy. Seemingly immediately, Charles was besotted, love blossomed, and de Kerouaille fell pregnant. She was moved into apartments in Whitehall, to be closer to the King, and soon became a trusted consort.
Despite the ceaseless gossip (and the scowls from the British public), she enjoyed her position by the King’s side and became particularly good at negotiating the wrangles of society. She was awarded an annual pension of ultimately £20,000 (over £60 million today) - an astonishing sum and one which could’ve been put to better use.
But Charles was blind, eyes wide with romance for his gregarious ‘Fubs’. In a letter he wrote:
"I should do myself wrong if I told you that I love you better than all the world besides, for that were making a comparison where ‘tis impossible to express the true passion and kindness I have for my dearest, dearest fubs".
Incidentally, the word ‘Fubs’ was a reference to the Duchess’ ever-increasing waistline. Apparently she was quite a beauty in a Rubenesque kind of way. Charles named a royal yacht ‘The Fubs’ in her honour.
The partnership ebbed and flowed for years, continually passionate, despite Charles’ various misdemeanours with his other ladies. But towards the end of his life, the biggest scandal broke, which damaged de Kerouaille’s reputation immeasurably. The Duchess contracted a venereal disease from the King but the writers at court assumed the opposite. As such, she was accused of passing on the infection, which deepened the Court’s suspicion that her intentions were wholly objectionable.
Louise de Kerouaille spent her twilight years back in France and despite returning to England several times was regarded with hostility by the British people.
Oh to be a fly on the wall during this time and witness the drama unfolding. It’s evident that the Duchess worked hard at weaving between the various accusations and disgust. Many of the tasteless comments were derived from jealous females vying for the King’s affection. She was a sociable character and conspicuous in her manner.
With this context in mind, it’s interesting to consider the style of this wonderful portrait particularly against the finer painters, such as Peter Lely for instance. Side by side, a portrait by Gascar and Lely are noticeably different in terms of mood. In contrast to Lely’s abundant gravitas, Gascar brings frivolity, charm, and sensitivity. His portraits seem more human and capture a sense of a subject’s candid nature. With this particular piece, it’s even more intimate than other depictions of the Duchess due to its size and simplicity. Yet it still carries the presence and joy of his best works - the deep violet and umber drapery adding to its vitality.
The portrait previously appeared at Christie’s and bears labels on the reverse.
Housed within a fine carved and gilded oval frame.
Please note that this painting will need to be crated if shipped overseas. A cost for the crate will be added on during checkout.
Learn more about Henri Gascar in our directory and more about Louise De Kerouaille in the blog.
Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 33” x 38” / 83cm x 97cm
Year of creation: c. 1673
Condition: Artwork presents well. Canvas relined. Old craquelure but the paint is stable. One minor loss in the lower left. Frame with some wear.
Artist’s auction highlight: £95,364 achieved for an oil painting in 2017.