Secretary to the Treasury, William Lowndes is portrayed wearing a long, thick curly wig, with a neck tie and dark brown coat. The painted oval border, seen around the portrait in this work, is known as a ‘feigned oval’.
In 1695 William Lowndes was appointed Secretary to the Treasury. He is known to have avoided party politics and was at times labelled both Whig and Tory. Lowndes continued to serve as Secretary to the Treasury until his death in 1724. Following his death, Sir Robert Walpole announced that the House had ‘lost a very useful Member, and the public as able and honest a servant as ever the crown had’. Writing in 1747, politician Philip Stanhope, Fourth Earl of Chesterfield (1694-1773) claimed Lowndes was the originator of the phrase ‘Take care of the pence and the pounds will take care of themselves’.
The Government Art Collection also includes a second, almost identical portrait of Lowndes which, like this example, is signed by Godfrey Kneller (GAC 0/224). A waist-length portrait of Lowndes, by contemporary painter Richard Philips (1681-1741), is in the collection of the Bank of England.
Godfrey Kneller was born in Lübeck, Germany. He moved to Amsterdam in 1662 to study painting under Rembrandt and Ferdinand Bol. He later trained with Gianlorenzo Bernini and Carlo Maratta in Rome. He returned to Lübeck in 1675, before moving to Hamburg and then to London to study the works of van Dyck. In England he received commissions from prominent figures, including Charles II. Charles sent Kneller to France in 1684, to paint the portrait of Louis XIV. Kneller maintained his position at court after the accession of James II in 1685 and, when William and Mary came to the throne, he and portraitist John Riley became joint Principal Painters to the Crown. Following Riley’s death, Kneller alone retained the position. He was 77 when he died.
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