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This portrait of Mary Countess Howe is one of Gainsborough’s most striking works. She stands confidently, with a hand-on-hip pose and direct gaze, set against a dark and unruly landscape. The painting was commissioned together with a full-length companion portrait of her husband Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe, a successful British Naval officer and admiral. An appreciation of the pastoral and rural idyll was deemed highly fashionable amongst women in high society throughout the 18th century. Countess Howe owned substantial amounts of land in her own right, having inherited her father’s estates across north-east Leicestershire. Here, Gainsborough presents her as a socially ambitious land-owner, gracefully enjoying a stroll across her estates.
The portrait showcases Gainsborough’s incredible attention to detail, his distinctive and skilful feathery brushwork, along with his preference for setting his portraits against romantically wild landscapes.
Mary, Countess Howe (1732–1800)
oil on canvas
H 243.2 x W 154.3 cm
Iveagh Bequest, 1929