ca. 1741 Frances Courtenay, née Finch, wife of William Courtenay, 1st Viscount Courtenay by Thomas Hudson (auctioned by Sotheby's)

Another version of this portrait is found at the Huntington Museum in San Marino, California USA. The notes for that portrait follow:

"Lady Frances Finch was born on February 4, 1721, the fourth daughter among six children of Mary (Fisher) and Heneage Finch, 2nd Earl of Aylesford, of Packington Hall, Warwickshire. On April 2, 1741, at the Chapel in Duke Street, Westminster, she married Sir William Courtenay (1710-1762), 3rd Bart., of Powderham Castle, Devon.

His father, Sir William Courtenay, 2nd Baronet, was the first important patron of Thomas Hudson, a native of Devon who returned there every summer after establishing his London practice. Between 1728 and 1735 Sir William commissioned portraits, marine paintings, and other works from Hudson, and Lady Frances and her husband continued this patronage. Around 1746 they commissioned Hudson to paint a full-length of Lady Frances and two small heads of William (1742-1788) and Mary (1745-1784), the eldest of their five children. Around the same time, Hudson painted Lady Frances's father (c.1744, unlocated), her sisters, Mary, Viscountess Andover (1746, Ranger's House, Blackheath) and Lady Betty Finch (Powderham Castle). In about 1755 Hudson painted a half-length portrait of Lady Frances, and the following year he completed an immense group portrait of her family (Powderham Castle). Just five years later, on December 19, 1761, Lady Frances died at Bath at the age of forty. Her widower was created 1st Viscount Courtenay of Powderham on May 6, 1762, but died in London ten days later. Like his wife, he was buried at Powderham Castle.

The dress, pose, setting, and accessories in Hudson's portrait of Lady Frances Courtenay are modeled on what was perhaps the most admired portrait in mid-eighteenth-century Britain, Peter Paul Rubens's Helena Fourment of c. 1630-35. Acquired around 1730 by Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, Rubens's sumptuous full-length representation of his second wife was sometimes attributed to the artist's protégé, Anthony Van Dyck, who was then highly esteemed as the ideal portrait painter and a model for contemporary artists. Around 1732 John Vanderbank painted a picture of his own wife "in a habit somewhat like a picture of Rubens' wife," and two years later Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, assured her granddaughter that "many women are now drawn in Vandyke's manner." Women attending the masquerade entertainments that were so popular during the eighteenth century often assumed the character of Rubens's wife, attired in "vandyke dress." In 1749 Elizabeth Montagu described a masquerade at which "Miss Charlotte Fane was Rubens' wife and looked extremely well." Hudson's portrait of Lady Frances Courtenay figures among his earliest exercises in the "Rubens's Wife" mode.

Although it is undated, the style of the hair, pulled straight back from the forehead, is consistent with fashions of the 1740s. Lady Frances was married in 1741, and it is likely that Hudson painted her shortly thereafter. The connubial associations of Rubens's Helena Fourment made it an especially appropriate model for portraits of married women, and for portraits occasioned by an impending marriage. Hudson developed the romantic associations of the type in an unlocated portrait, now known only through John Faber's undated mezzotint engraving. It represents a Miss Hudson, presumably a relation of the artist, in a pose and costume modeled on Helena Fourment, but with thematically significant alterations. A miniature portrait (presumably of her intended spouse) hangs from the jeweled chain draped over her heart, an attentive dog (symbol of fidelity) sits at her feet, and an urn ornamented with sculpted putti provides an interpretive backdrop. Intriguingly, in Hudson's subsequent portrait of Lady Frances, painted in the mid 1750s, he dressed her in a more freely interpreted version of vandyke dress, but repeated the motif of the attentive dog almost exactly as it appears in Miss Hudson, thus reinforcing the amorous hint provided by the basket of roses borne on her arm.

The present portrait is less belabored in its imagery, relying on the associations of the costume and the smoldering red sunset (also borrowed from Helena Fourment) to express its romantic allusions. Hudson evidently owned a copy of Rubens's portrait, and many of his paintings are fairly slavish copies of it. The artist took more liberties in the present instance, relaxing and lowering the proper right hand positioned to finger the black satin of the gown (a gesture frequently found in Van Dyck's portraiture), while the opposite hand drapes an ostrich plume gracefully across the skirt. The open gown with hanging sleeves depicted in Rubens's portrait has become a sleeveless bodice worn with a matching black satin skirt, perhaps reflecting the familiar construction of masquerade attire. However, the open Netherlandish collar has been misinterpreted in a nonsensical fashion, rising vertically from the shoulders rather than receding in a flat, spiky semi-circle. The correct interpretation of this detail in other portraits by Hudson strengthens the argument that this is an early essay.

Notwithstanding its structural problems, the passage is beautifully painted, with the projecting edges of the ruff brushed in with opaque white paint, while the receding portions are merely outlined so that they appear to dissolve into transparency. The primary version of this portrait was evidently painted for the sitter's father, the Earl of Aylesford. Numerous differences, particularly in the drapery of the two paintings indicate that the Huntington painting is not a copyist's stroke-for-stroke replica, but a free interpretation, probably by the original artist. However, the priority of the Aylesford version is betrayed by the more perfunctory handling of details in the Huntington painting, which lacks, for example, the transparent, scalloped ruffles pinned to the cuffs of the sleeves, the decorative edging across the front of the bodice, and the fluent delineations of the ostrich plume. The costumes in both portraits were almost certainly carried out by the Antwerp drapery painter Josef Vanhaecken (?1699-1749), who settled in England in 1720 and developed a close working relationship with Hudson during the 1740s. Dating from this period are numerous black and white chalk drawings by Vanhaecken (preserved at the National Gallery of Scotland) which document myriad variations on the Rubens's Wife portrait-type. These drawings can be traced directly to paintings by Hudson, Vanderbank, Allan Ramsay, and others who employed Vanhaecken to execute the drapery in their paintings. In fact, the Rubens's Wife formula tends to occur only in the portraiture of artists associated with Vanhaecken.

It is likely that the primary version of our painting was documented in a drawing utilized on demand by the workshops of Vanhaecken and his successors. Such a drawing seems to have provided a model for two direct variations on our composition, evidently representing different sitters, and executed by two unknown artists. Years after Josef Vanhaecken's death in 1749, the composition provided the basis for Hudson's half-length portrait of another Devon patron, Lady Katherine Parker, although she is represented in a far more elaborate version of vandyke dress (Saltram). Such repetition was necessitated by the burgeoning portrait practice operated by Hudson, who by 1744 was acknowledged as the preeminent portrait-painter in England. In this early example of an extremely popular portrait type, he managed to combine the glamour and romance of the masquerade with a historical dignity befitting his aristocratic sitter."

A hint of a vee waistline can be seen in Lady Frances' van Dyck revival dress in this Hudson portrait.

Keywords:  1741, Hudson, Vanhaecken, Frances Courtenay, Frances Finch, Lady Frances Courtenay, British, straight coiffure, feathered ribboned hat, square décolletage, neckline ruff, chemise, modesty piece, three quarter length puffed virago sleeves, arm bands, bows, cuffs, over-bodice, strap sleeves, vee waistline, full skirt, draped necklace, earrings, brooch, feather

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