Henry Pelham (1694-1754) Prime Minister
Oil on canvas1750-1755
About the work
Former Prime Minister of Britain Henry Pelham is depicted in the lavish red velvet coat of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, richly decorated with gold flower-like motifs.
The work bears similarities to other portraits of Pelham by both John Shackleton and William Hoare and it has been suggested that the two artists worked together on its production.
In 1879 George Scharf, then the Secretary of the National Portrait Gallery, first visited Downing Street to examine the collection of portraits on display in the house. Most were on display in a reception room on the first floor, where in 1884 Scharf ‘breakfasted… surrounded by all these pictures’ with Prime Minister Gladstone and his wife. Scharf returned again in 1892 to make ‘notes & Sketches... in a brilliant sunlight’, this time documenting nine Downing Street portraits, including this work. All nine works apparently remain in the Government Art Collection today.
When Scharf sketched this portrait, he annotated the drawing with the words: ‘…wart beside mouth. In embroidered robe. …Chin double & fat, not cloven, lips pale clear red, pink cheeks’. Scharf’s sketchbooks are now in the archives of the National Portrait Gallery.
About the artist
John Shackleton settled in London in 1742. He was primarily a portrait painter and may have been a pupil of the portraitist and writer Jonathan Richardson the elder. In 1749, he succeeded William Kent as Principal Painter in Ordinary to King George II. However, although the subsequent king, George III, kept Shackleton in office, his official royal portraits were painted by Allan Ramsay. Shackleton was part of the committee who first proposed the founding of a Royal Academy of Art in London. He died in London in March 1767 and his will reveals the impressive collection of works of art that he assembled during his life, including pieces by Anthony van Dyck and Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
William Hoare produced portraits in both oil and pastel. He was based in Bath and it was there he achieved most success. He studied in London in the 1720s and in 1728 travelled to Italy, where he remained for about a decade. There he made contact with Grand Tourists and established the foundations of patronage which continued to serve him well on his return to England. He settled in Bath in the late 1730s, where there was a great demand for portraits. He was involved in the early discussions which eventually led to the creation of the Royal Academy of Art in London in 1768 and George III added Hoare’s name as a founding member of the Academy. Hoare enjoyed a successful career until his death in 1792.