In 1985, Blenheim Palace was quite literally ‘saved by the (wedding) bell’. The 9thDuke of Marlborough married Consuelo Vanderbilt, a US heiress of the highest profile, in a lavish ceremony arranged by Consuelo’s mother Alva. Alva Vanderbilt was determined to marry off her daughter, dubbed ‘Dollar Princess’, into European aristocracy and the Duke of Marlborough was in desperate need of funds to restore and maintain Blenheim Palace.With Consuelo Vanderbilt’s fortune, which amounted to $4 billion in today’s currency, it was an advantageous but loveless decision.
While the Duke was away fighting in the Boar War, Consuelo had her portrait painted by renowned French Artist Paul Cesar Helleu. Helleu, is best known for his numerous portraits of beautiful society women of the Belle Epoque, and Consuelo was no exception. ‘’The portrait is an extremely intimate depiction of the 23- year- old Duchess and a ribbon to emphasise her famously long neck’’ Kate Ballenger of Blenheim Palace, confirms. This special portrait is now on display as part of the ‘Art and the Churchill Family’ Exhibition in the Long Library at Blenheim Palace until March 16 .
The life- size painting was purchased at auction by Blenheim Palace for an undisclosed sum as part of an on-going re-acquisition programme of key artworks.The portrait is among 15 paintings and 40 miniatures from the Estate of Viscount Churchill which are also being exhibited. In marrying the Duke, Consuelo became the cousin of Winston Churchill, who was born at Blenheim Palace and the two remained close friends and confidants for life.
The life- size painting was particularly favoured by Consuelo who kept it right up until her death in 1964. ‘’To be able to have such an important and beautiful portrait back on display again here in the Palace is fantastic’’ says Kate. Drawn in pastel on canvas, the Duchess’ portrait is considered one of the of the most personal ever created and this is rare opportunity to see a painting so pivotal to the Palace should not be missed.