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The Last Marchioness: Lindy Dufferin was a painter, cow-breeder, yoghurt-manufacturer and chatelaine of a great Northern Irish house. By her godson Harry Mount

Blog | By Harry Mount | Sep 27, 2023


It wasn’t hard getting people to write down their memories of my dear godmother, the Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava (1941-2020), for a tribute book I’ve just edited. Memories of Lindy Dufferin came thick and fast – and she always produced a different, striking reaction in people.

‘She had no neutral gear,’ said her friend Tom Stoppard.

‘She laughed. I miss her,’ said David Hockney – whose early pictures were dealt in the 1960s at London’s Kasmin Gallery, co-owned by Lindy’s late husband, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava (1938-88).

And the singer Van Morrison said of Lindy, his neighbour in County Down, ‘We’re both eccentric.’

Lindy packed several lifetimes of work –andfun–intoher79years.Shewasa painter, conservationist, champion cow-breeder, yoghurt-manufacturer – and chatelaine of Clandeboye, an enchanting country house between Belfast and Bangor.

Painting under her maiden name, Lindy Guinness, she was taught by Oskar Kokoschka, Sir William Coldstream and her great mentor, Duncan Grant.

She often painted her champion Holstein and Jersey cows, whose milk is used for Clandeboye Estate Yoghurt.

Every one of the five million yoghurts sold has a Lindy painting on it. ‘That’s how I came to be the most famous disposable artist in the world,’ she joked.

Her furious activity extended beyond Clandeboye. In 2019, she had the idea of bringing sheep back to Hampstead Heath, inspired by Constable paintings showing cattle grazing on the Heath in the 1820s and 30s. Two Oxford Downs and three Norfolk Horns – rare breeds – were duly brought onto the Heath.

She felt that serious things could be achieved, even if – or especially if – you were enjoying yourself.

She wrote in her diary:

‘If there is laughter and joy, however serious the business at hand, you create

Lindy at Clandeboye, after winning the 2007 UK Premier Herd Competition. With Scott & John Robertson, Mark Logan & Clandeboye Gibson Jingle, champion cow more than if it is too heavy-handed and serious. Fun is serious – it’s the best thing to have fun and to play makes one creative and one makes things that one had no idea were possible.’

When Sheridan Dufferin died, aged only 49, in 1988, he left her the Clandeboye estate.

It became, alongside her painting, her life’s work. She built several golf courses, opened the Ava Gallery and created a champion herd with her manager, Mark Logan (pictured). She set up a forest school in the Clandeboye woods for local children to learn about nature and created new gardens with her head gardener, Fergus Thompson.

With the great Belfast pianist Barry Douglas, she hosted Camerata Ireland, the All Ireland Chamber Orchestra, as part of the Clandeboye Festival. It will be held at Clandeboye this August.

By the time she died from cancer in 2020, Clandeboye was as busy as – if not busier than – in the glory days of her husband’s illustrious ancestor, the 1st Marquess of Dufferin and Ava (1826- 1902), Viceroy of India, Governor General of Canada and British Ambassador to France.

What a fairy godmother she was to me, too – extraordinarily generous when I was a child. Not just with presents but in boosting me with confidence as an achingly shy teenager.

A friend compared us to Babar the Elephant and the old lady – and she was just as affectionate and gentle a companion to me all my grown-up life as Madame was to Babar.

In one of her obituaries, the Daily Mail made a sublime typo: they called her a ‘conversationist’ rather than a conservationist.

In fact, they were right: she was a conversationalist like nobody else (as well as a great conservationist).

She was extremely funny: a brilliantly skilled tease who could diagnose exactly what you thought and what you were like and, in an affectionate way, joke about your characteristics. I roared with laughter so often with her.

But, still, she took her duties extremely seriously – even if, at the same time, she could joke about them and observe their funny aspects.

She spent many evenings discussing the future of Clandeboye after her death. She was the last of the Dufferins – well, to be precise, she was the last Marchioness of Dufferin and Ava. The marquessate died out with Sheridan’s death in 1988. His cousin Francis Blackwood became Baron Dufferin and Clandeboye, succeeded by his son John Blackwood as the 11th Baron in 1991.

Lindy never showed off about the history of Clandeboye, the Dufferins or the important objects the family had gathered over the centuries. In fact, she knew that history inside out, despite being a questing modernist in her art.

She painted in ever more avant-garde styles, constantly experimenting. Tom Stoppard says, ‘I caught her at the best moment in her Cubist cow movement before she took it too far!’

Of that movement, Lindy said, ‘I am searching for the essence – or platonic form – of the cowishness of cows. They intrigue me.’

Peter Mandelson, who got to know Lindy when he was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, loved the cow pictures:

‘I bought some paintings by Lindy but, to my eternal regret, I did not buy any paintings of her famous cows (no money).’

Lindy acknowledged in her diary that she’d been taught by so many greats that she had to fight to track down her own style: ‘I might have found my own voice – a sort of mixture of me and so many masters that I have studied and loved. How to use colour instead of line – that seems to be my quest.’

Newly weds: Sheridan & Lindy Dufferin by David Hockney, London, 1964. Sheridan, co-owner of the Kasmin Gallery, was one of the first dealers to spot Hockney

She and Sheridan collected modern pictures, and spotted modern artists such as Hockney, with a rare eye. But they both deeply appreciated the hallowed status of history and the past.

They added to and conserved their historical collections and knew and understood their significance – without displaying any pomposity.


The Lady & Sir Van: with Van Morrison


Once, leafing through the books in the Clandeboye library, I came across a book on Troy by Heinrich Schliemann, the German archaeologist who’d discovered the site of Troy in the 19th century. To my astonishment, there was a letter stuffed inside the book from Schliemann to the 1st Marquess, written in ancient Greek.

I rushed to Lindy, full of smug pride at finding the letter and my ability to read the Greek. She was interested from a historical point of view – but she never showed any of that distasteful pride herself in her considerable possessions and achievements.

With all her gifts in mind, I felt a book should be put together in Lindy’s honour. In part, it was to remember her painting, her mercurial nature and her gifts for sweet kindness and uniquely funny conversation.

But this book is also to remember the way she reacted to the deep tragedy of Sheridan’s early death – and what she did at Clandeboye.

After a period of intense grief on Sheridan’s death, Lindy took up painting again with renewed verve and originality, and reinvigorated Clandeboye.

It’s like the Old Testament story of the honey in the beehive that grew inside the dead lion – captured on the tin of Tate & Lyle golden syrup: ‘Out of the strong came forth sweetness.’

The Last Marchioness: A Portrait of Lindy Dufferin, edited by Harry Mount, is available now at www.heywoodhill.com or on 0207 629 0647