Lady Ottoline Morrell

In the early years of the 20th century, Lady Ottoline Morrell gathered around herself a peculiarly English coterie of avant-garde painters, writers and philosophers we know as the Bloomsbury Group. Its central precept was a rejection of bourgeois habit and the conventions of Victorian life. Her generosity of spirit and her supposed wealth drew them to her.

Lady Ottoline was the daughter of Lt. Gen. Arthur Cavendish Bentinck and his second wife. By an accident of fortune and ancestry, in 1879, her older half-brother, at the age of 22, became the wealthy 6th Duke of Portland and owner of Welbeck Abbey. Almost overwhelmed by his first sight of Welbeck, the young man was persuaded to accept the responsibilities of his vast inheritance by his powerful stepmother. It was she who put the house in order, ruling as the chatelaine of the Abbey for the next ten years.


Lady Ottoline Morrell, by Cavendish Morton. © National Portrait Gallery, London


Ottoline’s years at Welbeck with her boisterous brothers were not happy, though her sense of history and love of beauty were informed and developed by the treasures and portraits that furnished the house. It was with some relief that on the Duke’s marriage in 1889, she left the Abbey as her mother’s companion, and to nurse her through her last illness. Freed from those responsibilities, she began to further her education, to travel and to engage in relationships with men intrigued by her unusual beauty — she was striking, very tall, with red-gold hair.

One of these was Philip Morrell, a young solicitor with political ambitions whose family owned a fine art collection which Lady Ottoline had visited. Encouraged by the Morrell family, believing Ottoline to be an heiress (she was not), she and Philip married in 1902. Philip Morrell won a seat as a Liberal MP in 1906, moving to 44 Bedford Square, London, famed for its artistic gatherings, as was their country house, Garsington Manor near Oxford.

Lady Ottoline was painted many times, and some of the artists became her lovers. She was a model for characters in novels. She promoted authors’ and artists’ work, and her great generosity was often abused. Noted for the originality of her dress, once described as looking like a bird of paradise caught in a high wind, Lady Ottoline was often ridiculed. Virginia Woolf and T. S. Eliot wrote the lines inscribed on her memorial: A brave spirit, unbroken / Delighting in beauty and goodness / And the love of her friends.


Banner image: 

Lady Ottoline Morrell, by George Charles Beresford. © National Portrait Gallery, London


Derek Adlam - Curator Emeritus 

Derek Adlam and a colleague were the first craftspeople to take up a Harley Foundation studio at Welbeck in 1982. Trained as a classical pianist, Derek had turned to the restoration, making and playing clavichords, harpsichords and other early keyboard instruments. Over time, he became involved with the administration of the Foundation, the building of the Harley Gallery and new craft studios. Having mounted a number of Gallery displays of the Portland family’s works of art, he was invited to be the curator of that great collection. Now long retired, he continues his research into Welbeck’s rich history.


Learn more about the influential Women of Welbeck.

Elizabeth Hardwick, Countess of Shrewsbury

Lady Catherine Cavendish, Baroness Ogle

Frances Cavendish, Countess of Bolingbroke

Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire

Henrietta, Duchess of Portland

Winifred, Duchess of Portland

Blanche Maynard – Lady Algernon Gordon-Lennox

Lady Ottoline Morrell

Ivy, Duchess of Portland