Osbert Lancaster – The Littlehampton Bequest, 1973

O Lancaster -Vanessa Countess of Littlehampton   Marcellus Laroon

The 1st Earl’s marriage to the only daughter of the immensely wealthy Sir Solomon Bunbury, Bt, a Lord Mayor of London who, it was said, owned half the plantations in the West Indies, might well be described as ‘à la mode’, but thanks to the strength of character displayed by both parties the outcome was far removed from the dismal débâcle in which Hogarth’s characters were involved. The bride, whose mother had been a Miss ffossil of Norfolk, inherited not only the beauty which had made that lady the Queen of the Swaffham Assembly Rooms but much of the energy which her grandfather had so successfully displayed in the management of his estates. Of the grandeur of her husband’s position she was, from the first, fully appreciative and by her wit and by her social talents did much to enhance it. In Laroon’s delightful canvas she is shown in mourning for her husband, who had died the previous year, and accompanied by her two daughters, Letitia and Euphemia with, in the background, her devoted page, Hasdrubal, who had been born on her father’s estate in Jamaica.  This engaging blackamoor was held in the highest esteem by the whole family and his mistress took a particular pleasure in his company and insisted on his being always about her person. The Lady Letitia never married but, on the tragic death of her elder brother, devoted herself to the upbringing of her little nephew the 3rd Earl. The Lady Euphemia, on the other hand, whose irrepressible gaiety and strangely exotic beauty attracted innumerable suitors, survived three husbands: the 3rd Marquess of Tumbledown, who died in his seventy-eighth year, shortly after their marriage; Prince Ludwig of Kilmansegg-Lauterbach who fell at the Battle of Minden; and lastly Lord Jonathan Firturse who was killed in the hunting-field. The Countess herself lived on to welcome her grandson’s first bride to Drayneflete and passed peacefully away at the faro table in 1772.

Osbert Lancaster, 1908-1986.    The Littlehampton Bequest, 1973

Image: Vanessa Countess of Littlehampton and her daughters.  Marcellus Laroon

The Littlehampton Bequest. Note from the frontespiece:

The present Earl has always felt that the work of most of the great artists of the time represented in the Collection should be enjoyed by all lovers of art. He has therefore generously bequeathed this great collection to the National Portrait Gallery (in lieu of Death Duties). Moreover, in view of the present lack of space in the Gallery, he has commissioned Osbert Lancaster to prepare a fully illustrated volume which not only reproduces the works of art  – from Holbein to Hockney – but also records the achievements and aristocratic personalities of the long line of Littlehampton.

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Author: jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space

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