Georgiana, Viscountess Curzon,
later Countess Howe née Spencer-Churchill (1860-1906),
Queen Maria Leszczyńska of Poland

The fifth of six daughters of the 7th Duke of Marlborough, Georgiana Spencer-Churchill married in 1883 Richard George Penn Curzon-Howe, 4th Earl Howe. Their only child and son Francis Richard Penn Curzon, 5th Earl Howe, took up motor racing later in his life and became one of Britain's best known drivers.

Viscountess Curzon’s husband came to the Ball dressed as his famous ancestor, Admiral Richard Howe (1726-1799). Although it might have appeared more suitable for his wife to accompany him to the Ball as Mary Hartopp, the Admiral’s spouse, it was Georgina’s mother-in-law who acted the role! Georgina dressed herself as Queen Maria Leszczyńska (1703-1768), wife of King Louis XV of France and daughter of the dethroned Polish King Stanisław Leszczyński.

Her choice of costume was perfectly matched by Lafayette, who equipped his studio with a fitting rococo background and props, when she sat for him three days after the Ball to have her portrait made for the Devonshire House Ball’s commemorative album. There is no record of who made her spectacular dress with its complicated floral embroideries and encrustations of pearls. The Viscountess also wears a stunning diamond fringe tiara, set at a jaunty angle and inset with an black egret feather and an equally beautiful diamond fringe necklace.

The Howe couple enjoyed the close friendship of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, and entertained them on many occasions at their country seat, Gopsall Hall in Leicestershire, and at Curzon House in London. During the King’s last visit, Lady Howe was already gravely ill. She insisted, however, upon being wheeled to the dinner table in an invalid chair in order that the august guest might enjoy the society of his hostess.

Countess Howe died after a long illness on 9 February 1906.

Click on image to enlarge
copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897V&A Lafayette Archive
Negative number: L1374

copyright V&A. Lady Ashburton 1897
An illustration in the Illustrated London News in May 1893 gives an indication of the amount of fussing and arranging that went on before a portrait was made, particularly when the sitter, as with Countess Curzon, was wearing an enormously long and wide train.

In this image, where the photographer bears a striking resemblance to Monsieur Lafayette himself, the photographer's assistant is making sure that the sitter's train is aesthetically spread out at her feet.



List of Sitters
All text copyright © Russell Harris 2011