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Dorothea Benckendorff was born in Russia of German descent. In 1800 she married Count Christoph von Lieven, later Prince Lieven, who was appointed Russian ambassador in Berlin, and from 1812-34 in England. An ambitious woman, she was the mistress of Metternich, and held celebrated salons to which various diplomatic dignitaries were invited, winning her the nickname 'the Sybil of diplomacy'. In this unfinished portrait Lawrence has slightly flattered his sitter, mainly by slimming down and extending her neck. The work is an excellent example of his assured technique and rapidity of execution.

August 2004