The Marchioness of Carisbrooke

LL 3919


This painting is by the renowned society portrait painter, Glyn Philpot. It shows Irene Frances Adza Denison (1890 - 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 Prince von Battenberg, he lost his Royal title in 1917, and was made to anglicise his name as part of the Royal family’s attempt to downplay their German heritage during the First World War. 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 and Irene became the Marchioness. 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 EF Benson, known for the camp humour of his novels, also dedicated two of his famous novels to the Marquess. Irene reportedly ‘turned a blind eye’ to her husband’s homosexual affairs and focused 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 (1891 - 1937). The couple lived together in a flat, previously shared by the artists Charles Ricketts and Charles Shannon. When Philpot suddenly died 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 into his art works.