Sir George Beaumont (1753–1827), the National Gallery’s first great benefactor, is portrayed here at the age of 50. He is dressed in black with a glimpse of white waistcoat showing above a white stock against a plain crimson background. The restricted colour palette adds to the portrait’s drama.
Beaumont built up a relatively small but well-chosen collection of paintings, chiefly by Italian, French and Dutch masters and was instrumental in the foundation of the National Gallery. He told the government that if they bought the collection of Sir John Julius Angerstein, he would donate 16 paintings from his own collection ‘whenever the Gallery about to be erected is ready to receive them’. In 1824, the National Gallery opened to the public and in 1826 Beaumont’s paintings hung there with Angerstein’s.
Hoppner painted this portrait in 1803 and exhibited it at the Royal Academy in 1809, the last year of his life.
Sir George Beaumont, the National Gallery’s first great benefactor, is portrayed here at the age of 50. He was a Tory MP from 1790 to 1796, but retired from politics to pursue his love of poetry and the arts. He was a principal founder of the British Institution in 1805 and one of its governors.
Beaumont built up a relatively small but well-chosen collection of paintings, chiefly by Italian, French and Dutch masters. He was in favour of a ‘national gallery’ for pictures, and in 1823 told the government he would be ready to give 16 of his paintings to the nation ‘whenever the Gallery about to be erected is ready to receive them’, on condition that they bought the collection of Sir John Julius Angerstein. In 1824, the National Gallery opened to the public and in 1826 Beaumont’s paintings hung there with Angerstein’s.
Beaumont had already been portrayed by Joshua Reynolds in 1787 and by Thomas Lawrence in 1793. He repeatedly criticised Hoppner’s work, both before and after being portrayed by him, claiming that Hoppner ‘lacked the delicate precision of Sir Joshua’. Beaumont had been a friend of Reynolds, whose work he had greatly admired, and this coloured his judgement of most other contemporary artists. He even erected a cenotaph to the memory of Reynolds in the grounds of his home at Coleorton, which was painted by Constable in 1836. Beaumont was kind and encouraging to John Constable, but not to the point of buying any of his work. Beaumont’s criticism of Hoppner was particularly damaging to the artist as many of his clients were Beaumont’s friends. He was probably persuaded to let Hoppner paint his portrait by his lifelong friend Lord Mulgrave, who was also a collector and patron of the arts – Hoppner had painted him in or around 1800.
The portrait shows Beaumont dressed in black, with a glimpse of white waistcoat showing above a white stock, against a plain crimson background. He does not make eye contact with us but turns away. Hoppner has used a restricted colour palette of black, white, crimson and pale grey to add to the drama of the portrait. Beaumont’s very clear pale eyes echo the grey of his powdered hair.
Mulgrave’s first opinion of Hopper’s portrait was that he ‘did not like the picture’ and that it was not a good likeness of Beaumont. He urged Beaumont to sit for Lawrence again. Later Mulgrave changed his mind and Beaumont gave Hoppner permission to have the portrait engraved and published in 1808. Hoppner exhibited the portrait at the Royal Academy in 1809, in the last year of his life. He had completed little recent work due to recurring illness.
In a gesture of friendship, Mulgrave and Beaumont exchanged portraits with each other. In May 1810 Beaumont gave Mulgrave his portrait by Hoppner and Mulgrave presented Beaumont with his own portrait, painted by William Beechey in 1807 (now in the National Portrait Gallery, London).
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