The Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, artist, conservationist and chatelaine of a great estate – obituary

Telegraph Obituaries
·7-min read
The Marchioness in 2009 - Darren Kidd/Presseye.com
The Marchioness in 2009 - Darren Kidd/Presseye.com

The Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, who has died aged 79, was a painter, conservationist and businesswoman, and chatelaine of Clandeboye, one of Northern Ireland’s most bewitching houses.

Painting under her maiden name, Lindy Guinness, she was taught by Duncan Grant, Oscar Kokoschka and Sir William Coldstream. In more than 20 shows, in London, Dublin, Paris and New York, she developed her own extraordinary range of styles, from realist to Cubist to abstract.

During lockdown at Clandeboye this year she produced an astonishing set of landscapes. She was particularly fond of painting her prize-winning herd of pedigree Jersey and Holstein cows, whose milk produces Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt, on sale in supermarkets across Ulster and Ireland.

Every one of the five million yogurts sold has one of Lindy’s paintings reproduced on it. “That’s how I came to be the most famous disposable artist in the world,” she joked in The Irish Times.

Alongside her painting, it was Clandeboye – an elegant, Georgian, Soanean house – and its 2,000 acres, a green lung between Bangor and Belfast, that captivated her quicksilver mind and benefited from her boundless energy.

When her husband, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, died in 1988 aged 49, he left her his estate. She set about revitalising it, opening a golf course and the Ava Gallery in Clandeboye’s courtyard, and building up the cow herd with her manager, Mark Logan.

Lindy Guinness, as she then was, at work in 1960: her work encompassed a range of styles, from realist to abstract - Harry Benson/Daily Express/Getty Images
Lindy Guinness, as she then was, at work in 1960: her work encompassed a range of styles, from realist to abstract - Harry Benson/Daily Express/Getty Images

Every year, with the Belfast pianist Barry Douglas, she hosted Camerata Ireland, the All Ireland Chamber Orchestra, as part of the Clandeboye Festival. An environmental group, Conservation Volunteers, set up its first Northern Ireland branch at Clandeboye more than 30 years ago. The Clandeboye woods now host a forest school where local children are taught about trees and wildlife.     

By the time of her death, Clandeboye was at its busiest since the great days of her husband’s ancestor, the 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava (1826-1902), Viceroy of India, Governor General of Canada and British Ambassador to France.

Lindy honoured the 1st Marquess’s memory by preserving his unique collection of art, books and historic objects. She commissioned his biography, The Lost Imperialist, written by Andrew Gailey, the Eton housemaster who looked after Prince William and Prince Harry.

She also renovated Helen’s Tower, the fairytale spire overlooking the estate. The 1st Marquess built the tower for his mother, Helen, and asked poets, Kipling and Browning among them, to compose poems in her memory, which were inscribed in the tower’s dining room. Tennyson’s poem began:

“Helen’s Tower, here I stand,

Dominant over sea and land.

Son’s love built me, and I hold

Mother’s love in letter’d gold.”

The marriage of Sheridan, 5th Marquess of Dufferin, and Lindy Guinness at St Margaret's, Westminster, in 1964 - John Twine/ANL/Shutterstock
The marriage of Sheridan, 5th Marquess of Dufferin, and Lindy Guinness at St Margaret's, Westminster, in 1964 - John Twine/ANL/Shutterstock

Alongside her painting and conservation work, Lindy was one of the last great country-house hostesses. Everyone from Prince Charles to Van Morrison descended on Clandeboye, where she combined eclectic guests with a brilliant eye.

Among them was David Hockney, first spotted by Sheridan Dufferin, Lindy’s husband, early in the artist’s career. Sheridan showed Hockney’s pictures at the Kasmin Gallery, New Bond Street, which he founded in 1963 with John Kasmin.

Hockney painted and drew Lindy several times. Among her own subjects was the Rev Ian Paisley, who she painted in a robe and garish tie, with his familiar cry, “No”, painted on it.

“It’s in the Ulster Museum, I think – perhaps they are too nervous to show it,” Lindy said in her characteristic teasing, comic way.

Despite living in Northern Ireland throughout the Troubles, she sailed serenely on, blind to sectarian divisions, opening Clandeboye to all.

She said: “Many of my English friends were deeply concerned about my security but understood I had total confidence about being both a Guinness and a Dufferin and [was] proud of both these cross-border Irish connections.”

The Marchioness with one of her prize cows: she called them her 'ladies' - Darren Kidd/Presseye.com
The Marchioness with one of her prize cows: she called them her 'ladies' - Darren Kidd/Presseye.com

Serena Belinda Rosemary Guinness was born on 25 March 1941 at Prestwick, Scotland. Her father, the financier and MP Loel Guinness, was a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain. At the time of Lindy’s birth, he was group captain of a squadron at Prestwick Airport.

“He said the birth should take place at the airport to cheer everyone up,” Lindy recalled. “New life in the middle of the war, you know.”

Her mother was Lady Isabel Manners, the Duke of Rutland’s daughter. Her parents divorced when she was nine, and her father married the famed beauty, Gloria Rubio.

Lindy spent a gilded youth shuttling between Belvoir Castle, the Rutland seat, and Palm Beach, where her father and stepmother spent the winters. There, Truman Capote befriended her. “Oh, he was a famous court jester, he had a brilliant mind,” she recalled. “He had a slanting approach to life.”

As a little girl, Lindy met the French undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, who was backed by her father: “I was sitting on a yacht with my father in Antibes. I heard an odd, gurgling sound in the water, and out came a man with a helmet on his head. My father pulled him on to the boat and they started chatting. I had little baby aqualungs, and later I went down with Cousteau.”

Lindy often recalled how melancholy her youth was, among these dazzling connections. Her salvation arrived in 1958 in the shape of the Bloomsbury painter Duncan Grant. She was 17; Grant was 74. She learnt from him at Charleston, the Bloomsbury epicentre in Sussex, for the following decade.

“I was a dizzy, privileged, slightly lost teenager, who happened to be a guest at Firle Place, staying with the Gage family.”

At a Guy Fawkes party there, Lindy spotted Grant drawing the bonfire. She recalled: “He stopped and peered closely at me, a look that I was to get to know so well in the years to come. A gentle, intense observation; a gaze of kindness and curiosity, pleasure and amusement. I stayed for the next hour and, during that time, I became intensely excited and knew that the one thing that I wanted to be was a painter.”

The Marchioness at Clandeboye in 2009 - Darren Kidd/Presseye.com 
The Marchioness at Clandeboye in 2009 - Darren Kidd/Presseye.com

She studied at Byam Shaw School of Art, Chelsea School of Art and the Slade. After her first exhibition in 1971 at the Harvane Gallery, she showed in Belfast, Londonderry and Dublin; Browse & Darby in London became her principal gallery. She showed, too, in New York and Paris and was preparing for an exhibition with Jenna Burlingham at the time of her death.

Lindy’s second salvation came in the shape of Sheridan Dufferin, her fourth cousin through their great-grandfather, Edward Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh.

Their 1964 wedding at Westminster Abbey drew a congregation of 2,000, among them Princess Margaret. David Hockney joined the couple on their honeymoon, driving across America in a convertible Cadillac.

For all their glamour, Sheridan and Lindy were gentle souls at heart, free of pomposity. She was happiest planting trees on the estate with Fergus Thompson, the head gardener, or painting her beloved cows.

“I call them ‘the ladies’,” she said. “Countless champions, the best cows in Ireland. It is a journey I am on. I am searching for the essence – or platonic form – of the cow-ishness of cows.”

For someone who did not have the good fortune to have children, she had a gift for engaging, entertaining and enchanting the young, treating them as people in their own right.

The Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava, born March 25 1941, died 26 October 2020