Curator’s Pick

Caro’s Court Portrait

This portrait of Caro Dawes was painted by John St. Helier Lander, a noted portrait painter best known for his paintings of members of the royal family. Lander was born in 1868 in Saint Helier on Jersey. After three years at the Royal Academy, he returned to Jersey and set up a studio, though he also taught at the Jersey Ladies’ College and Guernsey Ladies’ College. Through local commissions, Lander met the Governor of Jersey, Major General Henry Richard Abadie, a great admirer of Lander’s work, who encouraged Lander to leave Jersey for the more active art scene in London. When Abadie left his position in Jersey for London, Lander followed him. Through Abadie, Lander was introduced to London society and particularly to its military elite, which proved valuable when World War I began and the London demand for military portraiture skyrocketed.

After World War I raised Lander’s profile as a portrait artist, he received his first significant royal commission, a portrait of Edward VIII, the Duke of Wales and eldest son of King George V. In the portrait, the young prince wore a polo kit and symbolized the “Youth of England.” For this portrait, he was awarded a medal at the Paris Salon and the king and queen commissioned a copy of the painting for the palace. This incredibly well-received portrait led to more royal commissions, and Lander quickly became a favorite court portraitist. It was this position that led to Lander painting our portrait of Caro.

In her portrait, Caro is wearing the dress she wore when she was first received by the King and Queen of England on June 26th, 1929, and a jacket that she would wear to numerous London society events during her tenure as the wife of the American Ambassador. Both the dress and the jacket worn in the portrait were made by one of the most prominent London court couturiers of the early twentieth century, W. W. Reville-Terry Ltd, who also produced dresses for Queen Mary and other royal women. Caro’s dress was made of ivory silk crepe embroidered with gold thread and embellished with faux pearls and crystal beads. Following court custom, it was worn with a detachable silk train trimmed with silver and a hair ornament of three ostrich feather plumes and silk streamers. The evening jacket worn in the portrait, though not the one she wore to court, was gold silk voided velvet, a technique where the velvet is woven to have both flat and raised areas, forming a pattern. The jacket was trimmed with red sable, a historically popular fur at the English court and a particular favorite of Henry VIII, who restricted its use to high-ranking nobility.