This painting is by the renowned society portrait painter, Glyn Philpot. It shows Irene Frances Adza Denison (born 1890, died 1956) in formal dress. Denison was the only daughter of the second Earl of Londesborough and Lady Grace Adelaide Fane. She is best remembered for her charitable work.
Denison became part of the Royal family when she married Alexander Albert Mountbatten in 1917. Known affectionately by friends and family as Drino, he was Queen Victoria’s favourite grandson. Previously known as the Prince von Battenberg, he lost his Royal title in 1917. He has been made to anglicise his name as part of the royal family’s attempt to downplay their German heritage. Their marriage, just two days after the loss of his princely rank, was reported in ‘The New York Times’ as a simple affair, without bridesmaids or wedding cake. Mountbatten, was given the new title, Marquess of Carisbrooke. Irene became the Marchioness of Carisbrooke.
It has been speculated by some social commentators that the marriage may have been arranged to conceal the Marquess’ homosexuality. The historian and writer, James Lees-Milne famously described him in his diaries as ‘an old spruce hen… a typical old queen’. The gay photographer, Cecil Beaton, also recorded in his published diaries that Carisbrooke had a long-term male lover, the antique expert and socialite Simon Fleet. The author E.F. Benson, known for the camp humour of his novels, also dedicated two of his famous novels, to the Marquess of Carisbrooke. His flamboyant personality and infamous lack of discretion meant that his sexual orientation was a topic of frequent gossip in upper class social circles. Irene reportedly ‘turned a blind eye’ to her husband’s homosexual affairs and focussed her energies on chairing committees and hosting charity balls and dinners.
Glyn Philpot was also homosexual. He had a long-term, relationship with fellow artist Vivian Forbes (born 1891, died 1937). The couple lived together in a flat, previously shared by the artists Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. When Philpot died suddenly of heart failure in 1937, Forbes was distraught. He took his own life the day after the funeral. Philpot’s portrait painting provided a constant stream of income. However, in the later stages of his career he attempted to loosen up his style and embed some of his political concerns and social experiences in his art works.