Francis Cotes (1726-1770)
Maria, Countess of Coventry (1733-1760), renowned beauty, 1751
Oil on canvas, 75 x 62 cm
Maria was the eldest of the four daughters of John Gunning of Castlecoote, Co. Roscommon. The beauty of three of these daughters, known as the ‘Three Graces’, was the subject of much discussion in London in 1751. They had intended to pursue careers in the theatre, but had already attracted such attention that their mother took them to London to find rich husbands for them. Elizabeth married the Duke of Hamilton, and Maria the Earl of Coventry. The sisters enjoyed almost superstar status, Maria requiring a military escort to protect her from curious onlookers when she went for daily strolls in Hyde Park. Sadly, she died of consumption at the age of twenty-seven. Ten thousand people came to see her coffin. Francis Cotes was a struggling young artist when he was commissioned to paint the Gunning sisters during their first year in London. He was also an accomplished pastellist.
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