Return of portrait to Scottish castle brings 100-year-old family rift to an end

After 100 years and a painful family rift, she has finally made it home.

The portrait of Lorna Marsali at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeeshire. Her mother, Ethel Louise, Lady Forbes-Leith, looks on from the painting bottom left. The two women were estranged given disapproval over Marsali's choice of husband with the portrait never shown at Fyvie - until now - as a result. PIC: NTS.
The portrait of Lorna Marsali at Fyvie Castle in Aberdeeshire. Her mother, Ethel Louise, Lady Forbes-Leith, looks on from the painting bottom left. The two women were estranged given disapproval over Marsali's choice of husband with the portrait never shown at Fyvie - until now - as a result. PIC: NTS.

A portrait of aristocrat Lorna Marsali now hangs in Fyvie Castle, near Turriff, Aberdeenshire, a century after a fall out with her mother kept the painting banished from the walls.

The two women now appear side by side, the purchase of the portrait by National Trust for Scotland the final footnote in the bitter family estrangement.

The painting was commissioned in 1913 by Marsali’s grandmother, Lady Leith of Fyvie, and had been due to join the grand selection of family portraits at the North East pile.

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But a row over Marsali’s choice of husband, an English army captain, prompted a deep split between mother and daughter and the portrait was never shown at Fyvie – until now.

Vikki Duncan, National Trust for Scotland’s curator for the North East, helped secure the painting for the Fyvie collection with the portrait now telling of the “loves and losses” within the family.

Ms Duncan said: “Although imposing and elegant, Fyvie was still a family home, and we know that family relationships can be complex. It seems that Lorna and her mother Ethel were, eventually, able to reconcile their differences.

"By placing their portraits together, within the immediate family grouping, it highlights a tale of love, loss and reconciliation that resonates with us all and illustrates that the stories of the past are still very relevant today.

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The portrait was painted by family friend and society artists Philip Alexius de László with the piece registered as “whereabouts unknown” by the de Laszlo Archives Trust.

The painting slipped into obscurity after the family split, which was caused by Marsali’s choice of husband, Captain Frederick Conyers-Lang.

She met him at the outbreak of war after enlisting as a volunteer nurse at Studely Knowle in Devon, her father’s former home, which was requisitioned as a hospital.

It was considered a daring move by the family and when Marsali fell in love with the captain, she created a scandal by eloping and getting married in London in 1916 against the advice of her mother.

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As a result, the portrait was never seen at Fyvie, where it had been intended to go on show and where Marsali spent much of her childhood.

The piece remained in Marsali’s own family – she had two children with Lang before divorcing in 1930 and remarrying again – with the painting likely gracing the walls of Fishleigh House and Thorpe Mandeville Manor where she lived throughout the 20th century, before passing to her granddaughter.

Ms Duncan said: “When the opportunity came to bring this painting back to Fyvie Castle and hang it where it had been intended, I was intrigued and set out on a path to explore the past.

“After more than 100 years, the painting is a wonderful asset to Fyvie Castle and it is lovely for us to see mother and daughter reunited after so long.”

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The painting was purchased at auction by National Trust for Scotland with support from Art Fund and the National Fund for Acquisitions.

Hazel Williamson, National Fund for Acquisitions Manager, said: "Finally, the portrait will be returned to the home for which it was intended, enabling the National Trust for Scotland to reunite the Leith family at Fyvie Castle."

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