1905 Lady Hillingdon, Alice Marion Mills (née Harbord 1857-1940) by Sir Frank Dicksee (auctioned by Sotheby's)

Sotheby’s auction notes include this biographical sketch, "Lady Hillingdon, Alice Marion Mills (née Harbord 1857-1940) was the fourth daughter of the 5th Baron Suffield. Her husband was the wealthy banker and businessman Charles William Mills, the 2nd Lord Hillingdon whose father owned an exceptional collection of eighteenth century portraits. It is most likely that the portrait hung at Overstrand Hall in Norfolk, the large home given to the Hillingdon's as a wedding present by the bride's father and altered by Edwin Lutyens. The Hillingdons had married in 1898 but it was not a happy union and Lady Hillingdon’s diary in 1912 contains the following famous aphorism which betrays her feelings towards her husband; 'I am happy now that Charles calls on my bedchamber less frequently than of old.  As it is, I now endure but two calls a week and when I hear his steps outside my door I lie down on my bed, close my eyes, open my legs, and think of England.’”

According to her article in thepeerage, she bore two children.

From Amber Tree's photostream on flickr.

1905 Lady Hillingdon, Alice Marion Mills (née Harbord 1857-1940) by Sir Frank Dicksee (auctioned by Sotheby's) From Amber Tree's photostream on flickr

Lady Hillingdon’s dress is a mass of soft taffeta with streamers, pom poms, flounces, and cloth ornaments. This was not her dress. Sotheby’s has this in their auction notes:  "The present magnificent portrait depicts the aristocratic Lady Hillingdon dressed for a summer garden party and seated on a curvaceous sofa upholstered in golden silk. Her extended gloved hand is resting on the handle of a parasol whilst the other is bare to reveal her substantial ruby and diamond rings glittering on her long white fingers. Her fashionable straw-hat is decorated with mauve feathers and a silk ribbon that harmonises with the bow on her parasol and at her throat she has a spectacular diamond choker. These accessories compliment the wonderful cascade of her taffeta gown which is an exceptionally fine example of drapery painting. The setting and pose suggest that the sitter has rested momentarily before greeting her guests at an elegant society soiree. However this is artistic artifice and the truth is that Dicksee had carefully controlled every aspect of the portrait and few of the elements had been chosen by Lady Hillingdon. The setting is not one of the Hillingdon’s homes; the portrait was painted at Dicksee’s studio at Greville Place in St John’s Wood. The sofa was one that appears in many of his portraits, part of a suite of chairs that he purchased in his first years of living at Greville House. The tapestry was also his and the gilt candle-bracket was also part of the studio decoration. These elements had been carefully arranged to reflect the Rococo splendour of the frame which was integral to the portrait as a work of art. Lady Hillingdon could not even claim credit for choosing the gown which was a dress that Dicksee had amongst his collection of costumes that had been made for various pictures. The ruffled sleeves and long pelmets had been taken from a dress originally made for One of Our Conquerors of 1903 (Manchester City Art Gallery) which depicted the modern-day heroine of a popular play. The crimson corsage pinned carefully to her own was probably Lady Hillingdon’s own choice as roses were a particular passion for her; five years later the rosarians Lowe & Shawyer bred a variety of rose that was named in her honour.”

Dresses of the day had pouter pigeon or blouson bodices; this is neither although it is a loose-fitting loose-fitting bodice. The neckline is framed by two bands and the upright parts of the bands are decorated with ruffs similar to Napoléonic cherusques.

Keywords:  1905, Dicksee, Alice Marion Harbord, Alice Marion Mills, Lady Hillingdon, Harbord family, Mills family, Baroness, British, bouffant coiffure, ribboned feathered hat, earrings, choker necklace, bodice, square neckline, neckline ruff, elbow length flared sleeves, puffed cloth ornaments, floral bodice ornament, waist band, natural waistline, close skirt, flounces, gloves, parasol

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