Sir John Lavery (1856-1941)
This study must have been painted in 1930, the year that Margaret was introduced to the court as a debutante - a process by which young women of aristocratic roots were formally introduced to the court, thus signalling their eligibility for marriage...
Margaret, Duchess of Argyll was one of the most glamorous, controversial and newsworthy aristocrats in the second half of the twentieth century. Her life epitomises the extremes of both charismatic fashion ad contemporary social depravities.
This study was painted by Sir John Lavery and was produced in preparation for his, now lost, work 'Their Majesties' Court, Buckingham Palace', which was exhibited to great acclaim at the Royal Academy in 1931. Although known only from a black and white photograph, the finished painting appears to have been quite spectacular, with over a hundred women in fine court dress parading into the Grand Hall while others stood and sat watching the spectacle. This work is one of a number of initial ad vivum sketches made by Lavery in preparation for the final composition and one of only two studies made for the figure of the Duchess of Argyll.
This study must have been painted in 1930, the year that Margaret was introduced to the court as a deb (or debutante) - a process by which young women of aristocratic roots were formally introduced to the court, thus signalling their eligibility for marriage.
Soon after her introduction to the court, Margaret announced that she was engaged to Charles Guy Fulke Greville, 7th Earl of Warwick, however, the marriage never took place and she later married the American stockbroker and amateur golfer Charles Sweeney in 1933. Such was her fame that she was immortalised by Cole Porter in his 1934 Broadway musical 'Anything Goes' in the song 'The Top';
'You're the top: you're an Arrow collar,
You're the top; you're a Coolidge dollar,
You're the nimble tread of the feet of Fred Astaire,
You're Mussolini, you're Mrs. Sweeny...'
Margaret later married the Duke of Argyll and seemed content to settle into a life of aristocratic grandeur. However, her awkward personality began, with age, to outshine her famous beauty. Soon the Duke referred to her as 'S' - for Satan - and during their divorce proceedings (until recently the costliest ever) a High Court Judge dubbed her 'wholly immoral'. Her biographer concluded: 'She had known everybody, been everywhere, had every material advantage, been bestowed with legendary good looks. Never had so much fortune been used to achieve so little'.  Certainly, she possessed a mastery of acerbic comments; 'I don't think anybody has the real style of class anymore. Everyone's gotten old and fat.' And yet, she was in many ways a symptom of the aristocracy's inability to adapt to the seismic changes in society after the Second World War. She could neither boil an egg nor make her own bed, and was unable to cope with life outside the confines of wealth and class. Whatever her fame or repute, she remains an unchallenged icon of twentieth-century aristocratic celebrity.
 Charles Castle, ‘The Duchess Who Dared’, London 1994