Isabella,Viscountess Molyneux, later Countess of Sefton

Thomas Gainsborough1769

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool

Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool
Liverpool, United Kingdom

Isabella Stanhope, daughter of the Earl of Harrington, married Viscount Molyneux of Croxteth Hall in November 1768. Soon afterwards the couple went to Bath, where the Viscountess sat for the city’s great painter of fashionable society. Gainsborough had just been elected to the newly founded Royal Academy in London, and in this portrait he seeks to impress a London audience. The scale and placement of the figure conveys her elegance and even a touch of preciosity. Gainsborough has lavished his skill on the textures of the dress and the finely observed and superbly modelled hands. There is, beneath the virtuosity, an element of care and fastidiousness which sets this work apart in Gainsborough’s society portraiture.


  • Title: Isabella,Viscountess Molyneux, later Countess of Sefton
  • Creator: Thomas Gainsborough
  • Creator Lifespan: 1727/1788
  • Creator Nationality: British
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: London, England
  • Creator Birth Place: Sudbury, Suffolk, England
  • Date Created: 1769
  • tag / style: portrait; Sefton; Isabella; dress; society; Thomas Gainsborough; Countess
  • Physical Dimensions: w1550 x h2360 cm (Without frame)
  • Artist biographical information: In 1759 Gainsborough moved from the east to the west. He moved from Ipswich where he was living at the time, to Bath, and he stayed in Bath from 1759 to 1774. It was this period that marked the period when Gainsborough began to excel. He entered the prime of his painting career. This portrait of Lady Molyneux was the grandest female portrait he had painted up to that date. It is thought one reason why this move to Bath turned Gainsborough from a good painter into a remarkable painter was the proximity of a lot of Van Dyck paintings. Gainsborough hugely admired Van Dyck’s work and the latter’s influence on 18th and 19th-century portraiture was immense.
  • Additional artwork information: This painting was the subject of an 'Artwork Highlight' talk in 2009. For a podcast of this talk, please follow this link: http://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/podcasts/transcripts/gainsborough_molyneux.asp
  • Type: Oil on canvas
  • Rights: Presented by H M Government from the estate of the 7th Earl of Sefton in 1975

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