Late 17th-Century Portrait Of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough

Late 17th-Century Portrait Of Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough

A beautiful late 17th-century English school portrait believed to be a young Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough (1660-1744). She wears a white dress with a red wrap and holds her treasured Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Sarah Churchill (née Jenyns) was considered to be one of the most influential women of her generation. She was close friends with Princess Anne (later Queen Anne), which made her an important ally for leading public figures. By befriending Churchill, it was hoped she would, in turn, lean on the future monarch.

By the time Princess Anne became Queen, Churchill had accumulated a wealth of knowledge regarding her private affairs, which only increased her importance and notoriety. She remained an influential confidant until their well-documented falling out in around 1710.

In 1677, she married John Churchill, an English statesman, who later became Captain-Generalcy of British forces - in part due to the influence of his wife. This marriage spanned over 40 years until John’s death in 1722.

It’s interesting to note that during the early 18th-century the Duke of Marlborough kept cavalier King Charles spaniels for hunting. His fondness for the breed led to their alternative name of ‘the Blenheim’ after his estate.

So could we assume that the appearance of ‘the Blenheim’ in this portrait is a reference to the Duke? And if so, is it perhaps a little controversial given that Sarah Churchill is holding her eager pet in the palm of her hand?

This fascinating portrait is so full of intrigue and certainly warrants further research. For instance, in the foreground towards the bottom, there’s what appears to be a golden ring. During the 17th-century, posy rings were often given during marriage and inscribed with a short verse - so could this be a gift from her husband?

We may never know the true story as the painting’s provenance has been lost over time. The only remaining clue is a label on the reverse, which refers to an English frame-maker in London. But this is likely to relate to its restoration during the 19th-century.

Do feel free to contact us for more information as our research is ongoing.

Medium: Oil on canvas
Overall size: 29” x 34” / 74cm x 87cm
Year of creation: c. 1690
Provenance: Germany
Condition: Craquelure throughout but the paint layer is stable under varnish. There have been at least two restorations including one in the late 19th-century that may have involved replacing the stretcher. However, following an examination under UV, the in-painting appears to be minimal. The canvas has been relined, most recently within the last 50 years. There’s a small scratch towards the top right but this could relate to the varnish rather than the paint layer. Later frame with light wear.

Conservation & History

We care profoundly about our role as custodians and every piece in the collection has been assessed by our conservator. When required, we undertake professional restoration carefully using reversible techniques and adopt a light touch to retain the aged charm of each work. We also restore frames rather than replace them as many are original and selected by the artists themselves.

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