Henry Pelham is seated beside his secretary John Roberts, who is taking dictation. The portrait by John Shackleton is based on Anthony van Dyck’s double portrait of Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford beside one of his Principal Secretaries, Sir Philip Mainwaring (1639-40; collection of Earl Fitzwilliam).
Parts of writing on the letter in the left hand of Pelham can be read, including ‘London 1752’ at the top right and the signature ‘Merepoix’, which indicates that the letter is from French diplomat Charles Pierre Gaston Francois de Levis Mirepoix (1699-1758).
Shackleton also painted Pelham in the same pose but without his secretary (c.1752; National Portrait Gallery, London; another version sold through Christie’s, London, on 14 January 1944, Lot 149).
This double portrait was engraved by Irish mezzotint engraver Richard Houston (1721/2-1775).
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.
Henry Pelham (1694-1754) and his secretary John Roberts
Oil on canvas
height: 130.50 cm, width: 143.00 cm
Purchased from Appleby Bros, December 1958
Collection of the Pelham Family; collection of Duke of Newcastle; collection of Lady Sondes; collection of Sir Michael Culme Seymour; exported to the United States in 1947; exported to the UK in c.1957; with Appleby Bros., London; from whom purchased by the Ministry of Works in December 1958
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