5:50pm Wednesday 27th November 2013
A TRAGIC beauty who wooed crowds in London and beyond has been returned to her marital home in Worcestershire more than 200 years after her death.
Born in 1733, Maria Gunning was the first wife of the 6th Earl of Coventry, and was heralded across England for her beauty.
She died at 27 after suffering blood poisoning from lead make-up, commonly used by women of the time.
Now, she has been returned to the National Trust’s Croome Court in the form of a portrait, uncovered at an auction in Sussex.
The 18th century painting was found by Lord Flight, chairman of the Croome Court Appeal Comittee, at an art auction and will now be housed at the stately home, near Pershore.
Lucy Hadley, house conservation and engagement officer, said: “We are ecstatic about this find and we’re so grateful to Lord Flight for gifting this pastel portrait of Maria to us.
“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 are really looking forward to putting her on display for our visitors this winter.”
Maria enjoyed success in London as a society beauty in the mid-18th-century but, after years of applying the fashionable lead-based white make-up, the poisoning eventually erupted through the skin on her face.
As her husband remodelled Croome Court into the building seen today, Maria hid herself away in the house, with only the light of a tea-kettle, as she was so distraught over her ruined beauty and did not want anyone to see her.
She died at Croome Court from the blood poisoning. For more information about Croome, call 01905 371006 or you can log on to national trust.orgy.uk/croome.
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