Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729) dramatist, essayist and politician

  • About the work
    Location
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Downing Street

    This portrait of Richard Steele by decorative painter James Thornhill was painted in 1713 and engraved by George Vertue in 1714. It was purchased for the Government Collection in 1957 from the sale of the contents of Cobham Hall, Kent (the former seat of the Earls of Darnley), as a work by an unknown artist. It is mentioned as follows in ‘The Life of Richard Steele’ by George A. Aitken, first published in 1889:

    ‘In Thornhill’s portrait, which is very natural and life-like, we have Steele in undress, with a cap instead of the usual wig…’

  • About the artist
    James Thornhill, born in Dorset, was apprenticed to Thomas Highmore (1689-97) but also studied and probably assisted Antonio Verrio and Louis Laguerre. He became a Freeman of the Painter-Stainers’ Company in 1704 and began painting scenery in 1705. His surviving decorative schemes include those at Greenwich Hospital (1708-27), Blenheim Palace (1716), Charborough Park (1718) and St. Paul’s Cathedral (1716-19). Queen Anne also employed him to paint an apartment at Hampton Court. He visited the Netherlands and Paris in 1711 and in the same year became a director of Sir Godfrey Kneller’s Academy, taking it over in 1716. In 1720, he became Serjeant Painter and was knighted. He became MP for Weymouth in 1722 and ran an Academy from his home.
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  • Details
    Title
    Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729) dramatist, essayist and politician
    Date
    c.1713
    Medium
    Oil on canvas
    Dimensions
    height: 127.00 cm, width: 101.00 cm
    Acquisition
    Purchased from Sotheby's, 23 July 1957
    Inscription
    Gilt caption on frame: Sir Richard Steele 1672-1729 / Author and Contributor to The Spectator / Attributed to Sir James Thornhill
    Provenance
    Collection of cricketer Ivo Francis Walter Bligh, 8th Earl of Darnley (1859-1927) of Cobham Hall, Kent; by whose trustees sold through Sotheby's, London, 'The Valuable Contents: Pictures, Statuary, Furniture & Household Furnishings, etc. of Cobham Hall near Rochester, Kent, Second Day's Sale: The Pictures', on 23 July 1957 (Lot 353), as English School, 'Portrait of a Gentleman, three-quarter length, standing at a table'; from which sale purchased by the Ministry of Works
    GAC number
    3881