A PORTRAIT of a famous woman who lived in a mansion house near Malvern more than 200 years ago has been found and donated to the house.
Lord Flight of Worcester, who is the chairman of the Croome Court Appeal committee, discovered the 18th century pastel portrait of Maria Gunning at a recent art auction in Sussex before presenting it to staff members at the National Trust stately home.
The first wife of George Coventry – the 6th Earl of Coventry, she enjoyed success in London as a society beauty and was once given a royal guard after being mobbed in Hyde Park.
Maria was so famous in her home county, residents of Worcestershire paid to see her shoes being repaired by a city centre cobbler.
But after years of applying fashionable lead-based white make-up, her skin eventually began to erupt on her face. As her husband remodelled Croome Court, Maria reputedly hid herself away in the house as she was so upset about her ruined beauty.
She died at Croome at the age of 27 from blood poisoning caused by the toxic make-up she used.
Lucy Hadley, house conservation and engagement officer at Croome Court, said: “We are ecstatic about this find and we’re so grateful to Lord Flight for gifting this pastel of Maria to us.
“We believe the pastel is by Francis Cotes who has painted other portraits of beautiful Maria, and it is the first major donation of an object to display to our visitors which is so closely linked to Croome’s Georgian heritage.
“We’re really looking forward to putting her on display for our visitors this winter.”
For more information about Croome Court visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/croome or call 01905 371006.