Cathy comes home to Arlington Court

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Latest update 19.08.2013 10:18

An 18th-century portrait by the great George Romney, of a member of the Chichester family of Arlington Court, has returned to the estate on loan from a private collection.

The subject of the portrait, Catherine Chichester (1765-1791), was the daughter of John Chichester and Mary McDonald. The Romney portrait was made in early 1789 and only months later Catherine became a nun at Liège. She assumed the name Sister Mary Joseph Sales of the Dolours of our Blessed Lady and brought £2,000 - the equivalent of around a million pounds in today’s money - from home to the convent, a teaching establishment for Englishwomen of the Catholic faith which was still being persecuted in England at the time. Sadly Catherine’s time as a nun was only brief: she died in 1791, almost exactly two years after joining the convent.

Valuable insight

Our House and Collections Manager, Paula Martin, enthused: 'It's wonderful to have this portrait at Arlington. We know little about the lives of the early Chichesters but being able to see what they looked like really helps to bring them to life for the staff and our visitors.'

The portrait hangs in the dining room at Arlington alongside a politically charged painting of Catherine's mother produced in 1780 in which the Scots Jacobite sitter sports a tartan plaid, at a time when the wearing of tartan was still forbidden by Act of Parliament.

A prolific career

George Romney (1734-1802) was originally apprenticed as a cabinet maker but later discovered his talent for portrait painting. Despite having a wife and two children, one of whom died at the age of three, he spent around 25 years developing his career in London, Paris and Rome to become one of the most sought-after portraitists of his time. It is thought Romney produced over 2,000 paintings, around 400 of which are on display in public galleries.

Romney in Devon

Two Romney portraits of Henry Hoare and Lydia Henrietta Malortie, Mrs Henry Hoare can be found in Killerton House near Exeter. The Arlington Romney will be on display until 2018.