Charles James Fox, a Whig statesman, began his political career at the age of 19, when he was elected MP for Midhurst, subsequently becoming MP for Westminster in 1780. In the early 1770s he was appointed to posts on both the Admiralty and Treasury Boards. His short-lived coalition government with Lord North, against whom he had argued over the American War of Independence, was brought to an end in late 1783 with the defeat of Fox’s East India Bill, and was followed by the appointment of William Pitt the Younger as Prime Minister. Fox was an opponent of the war with France and was also a supporter of the abolition of slavery. The mutual dislike between Fox and George III was exacerbated by the statesman’s lifestyle of gambling and drinking, for which he was notorious. Declared bankrupt twice in the early 1780s, Fox was in debt at his death in 1806. He was buried at Westminster Abbey.
This is an early twentieth-century copy of Sir Joshua Reynolds’ portrait of Charles James Fox, exhibited at the Royal Academy in London in 1784 and engraved by several printmakers at the time and later. Reynolds painted Fox on a number of occasions. The portrait which was the basis for this copy is now at Holkham Hall and is thought to have been painted mainly in 1782. Fox paid for the portrait, but gave it as a gift to one of his supporters, John, later first Lord Crewe, who then gave it to the Earl of Leicester. In his catalogue of Reynolds’ work, art historian David Mannings quotes a letter written by Fox to Reynolds, probably in April 1784: 'If it is not too late to have one of the papers upon the table in my picture docketed ''A Bill for the better regulating the affairs of the E. I. Company, & c'', I should be very much obliged to you.'
There are many copies of this portrait. Some of them were made in Reynolds’ studio under his supervision, while others were produced outside the studio, sometimes a long time after Reynolds’ death.
Joshua Reynolds was the dominant artistic personality during the age of George III. He was born in Plympton, Devon. From 1750 to 1752 he studied the work of the Old Masters in Rome. Reynolds returned via Florence and Paris, and settled in London in 1753. In 1759 he painted a portrait of the future king, George, Prince of Wales (Royal Collection). After George’s accession the following year, Reynolds was dismayed to learn that Allan Ramsay had been made Principal Painter to the King. This marked the beginning of increasing hostility between Reynolds and the King. Nonetheless, by 1760 Reynolds had established himself as the leading portraitist. He became President of the Royal Academy in 1768 and was knighted the following year.
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