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Diplomat and colonial governor George Macartney is remembered primarily for his embassy to Peking (Beijing) of 1792. Despite the failure of his mission to establish a permanent British diplomatic presence there, Macartney was created a viscount before his departure and raised to earl after his return in 1794. The official record was published as G. Staunton’s ‘Authentic Account of an Embassy from the King of Great Britain to the Emperor of China’ (1797) and the GAC includes 27 plates from the work (see GAC 16966-16992). Macartney’s later appointments include a mission to Verona (1795) and the governorship of the Cape Colony, South Africa (1797-98).
This is one of at least two half-length portraits of Macartney by artist Lemuel Francis Abbott, both from the collections of descendants of the sitter. It was formerly in the collection of Jane, Countess of Normanton, a cousin of the sitter.
A double portrait by the same artist, showing Macartney with George Staunton, his private secretary, is in the National Portrait Gallery and a second version of the double portrait is in a private collection.
Portrait painter Lemuel Francis Abbott was the son of a clergyman and was born in Leicestershire. He studied briefly with the artist Francis Hayman but was largely self-taught. By 1784 he had settled in London, where he became well-known for portraits of naval officers, his most famous sitter being Nelson (examples of his portraits of Nelson are in the National Maritime Museum, National Portrait Gallery and Scottish National Portrait Gallery). In 1798 Abbott was certified insane, according to one account the result of an ‘ill-assorted marriage’. He never recovered, although portraits by him were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1798 and 1800. Abbott died in Clerkenwell, London, in 1802. He is thought to have left a son.
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