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Sir Joshua Reynolds, Lord Heathfield of Gibraltar

Key facts
Full title Lord Heathfield of Gibraltar
Artist Sir Joshua Reynolds
Artist dates 1723 - 1792
Date made 1787
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 142 × 113.5 cm
Acquisition credit Bought, 1824
Inventory number NG111
Location Not on display
Collection Main Collection
Previous owners
Lord Heathfield of Gibraltar
Sir Joshua Reynolds

General George Augustus Eliott, later Lord Heathfield (1770–90) defended the British territory of Gibraltar against a long siege by the Spanish and their French allies, which ended on 13 September 1782.

Reynolds captures the moment of danger before the General’s triumph at Gibraltar. He holds a giant key symbolising the ‘key of Gibraltar’ which he refuses to give up to the Spanish. Standing on the rock against a backdrop of billowing black smoke, Heathfield gazes steadfastly into the distance. The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1787 and an engraving was made of it soon after to capitalise on Heathfield’s fame. Other artists have always particularly admired this portrait for Heathfield’s indomitable expression.

Within 20 years of being painted, the portrait was already in poor condition. The extensive cracking is a result of the defects of Reynolds’s painting technique.

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