Press Release

The 'Great Picture'

Tate Britain  Room 1
14 April 2003 –

From April 2003, a display at Tate Britain will be devoted to the extraordinary Great Picture, commissioned by the formidable seventeenth-century aristocrat Lady Anne Clifford (1590-1676). This work has been borrowed from Abbot Hall, Kendal as part of the Tate Partnership Scheme, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

In 1646, during the British Civil War, Lady Anne Clifford commissioned this enormous three-part picture from an unidentified painter in London. Most of the people shown in it had died long before. She intended it to be a visual record of her own life and of her ancient aristocratic family.

In the central panel are depictions of her mother Margaret and her father George Clifford, 3rd Earl of Cumberland (1558-1605). Little boys, dressed in skirts, are Anne’s long-dead brothers. Her four aunts appear in fictive portraits on the wall behind. The left-hand panel shows Lady Anne at the age of fifteen in 1605 - when she should have inherited her father’s great estates. Above are portraits of her childhood tutor, the poet Samuel Daniel, and her governess, Anne Taylor, and books that she had read under their tutelage. The right-hand panel shows Lady Anne in 1646, when she commissioned the painting, soberly dressed in black, beside framed images of her first and second husbands.

Lady Anne’s father was a leading aristocratic member of Elizabeth I’s court. He had inherited immense estates in Yorkshire and Cumbria. Upon his death in 1605, Lady Anne discovered that her father had disinherited her, because she was female. For almost forty years she fought to regain her inheritance - which she did only in 1643 at the death of her male cousin. Because of the civil war in Britain it was not until 1649 that she was able to travel north to claim her extensive lands. Lady Anne subsequently spent the rest of her life there, restoring and enhancing her various properties.

She married twice. Both her husbands were courtiers and both caused her much unhappiness. Richard Sackville, 3rd Earl of Dorset (1589-1624) was the spendthrift owner of Knole in Kent. Philip Herbert, 4th Earl of Pembroke (1584-1650) was still living when the Great Picture was made but had long been estranged from her. Lady Anne kept diaries and commissioned copious family records, which were destined for her two surviving daughters, to celebrate the high status and long history of her family.

A second version of Lady Anne’s great triptych did not survive the nineteenth century.

The display has been devised by Tate Curator Karen Hearn.

Open every day 10.00-17.50