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Portrait of Elizabeth Croft at Croft Castle

The Blue Room at Croft Castle, Herefordshire
The Blue Room at Croft Castle | © National Trust Images/James Dobson

In 2018 an oil painting by John Constable of Elizabeth Lewis, the second wife of Rev. Sir Herbert Croft, 5th Baronet, appeared at auction and was purchased by the Croft Trust. The painting has been loaned to Croft and hung in the Blue Room ready to be discovered on your next visit.

The portrait of Elizabeth Croft

The portrait of Elizabeth has been called ‘a once in a lifetime addition to the Castle’, and she joins the collection along with portraits of her husband and step daughters.

John Constable is usually associated with his naturalistic landscape paintings, which makes this portrait unusual. Born in Suffolk in 1776, Constable painted numerous views of the surrounding countryside in what is now known as ‘Constable Country’.

He also painted Elizabeth’s childhood home of Malvern Hall and its immediate landscape in what is now the Birmingham suburb of Solihull. Constable took up portraiture to make ends meet, but found it dull and uninspiring.

The portrait of Elizabeth is thought to date from around 1807. It was not painted from life, but copied from a version by the artist Daniel Gardner.

Who was Elizabeth Croft?

Elizabeth was the third daughter of David Lewis of Malvern Hall. She married Herbert Croft in 1795 but the marriage was not destined to be a happy one. Becoming bankrupt, Croft was arrested for debt the day after his wedding to Elizabeth.

He eventually fled to France where he remained in exile, separated from his wife, until his death in 1816. The union produced no children, although Croft had three daughters from his first marriage. His daughters also felt the effects of his financial difficulties. As no dowry could be found for them, they remained spinsters for the rest of their lives.

Herbert’s spendthrift ways continued a period of retrenchment for the Croft family. In 1746, Archer Croft, 2nd Baronet, had been forced to sell Croft Castle after falling into serious debt when the South Sea Bubble burst. The Crofts were not able to return to their family home for another 170 years and so Herbert and Elizabeth never set foot inside the Castle.

The Blue Room

It is fitting that Constable’s portrait of Elizabeth has been hung in the Blue Room alongside another Elizabeth, the wife of the 3rd Baronet, painted by Thomas Gainsborough in 1761. As a probationer at the Royal Academy, Constable was very much inspired by the works of Gainsborough as he studied life drawing and anatomy. The two men became the most celebrated painters of their age.

The Blue Room, with its Rococo ceiling plasterwork and blue painted panelling dating from the 1760s, is the perfect setting for these two beautiful and commanding portraits. Both paintings are on loan from the Croft Trust.

The Croft Trust

The Croft Trust was founded in 1960 by the Hon. Diana Uhlman, daughter of Henry Page Croft, 1st Baron Croft. At this time, Croft Castle was in grave danger of being lost forever like so many other houses in the county.

Although Diana had never lived at Croft, when she heard the news that it was under threat, she responded ‘we’ve got to do something!’ With the support of her brother Michael, 2nd Lord Croft, Diana ensured that the Croft family endowed the estate to the National Trust for safeguarding. As much of the Castle’s collections had been sold, Diana and other members of the Croft family formed the Croft Trust to source furnishings for the rooms.

The Croft Trust continues in existence today, and amongst its trustees are Diana’s daughter and grandson and nephews of the original trustees.

Family holding hands approach the gatehouse at Croft Castle, Herefordshire.

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