Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of The Rt Hon. Sir John Rushout 4th Bt PC (1684-1775), 1716 

Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt. (1646-1723)

Portrait of The Rt Hon. Sir John Rushout 4th Bt PC (1684-1775), 1716, Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt.
Oil on canvas
18th Century
50 x 40 in (127 x 101.2 cm)
The sitter; The sitter's son Sir John Rushout 5th Bt created Lord Northwick (1738 - 1800), Northwick Park, Gloucestershire; By inheritance to Captain E.G. Spencer-Churchill MC, Northwick Park; His sale Christie''s, June 25
A Catalogue of the Pictures, Works of Art etc. at Northwick Park 1864 reprinted 1908 no.284 Tancred Borenius A Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures at Northwick Park 1921 no.335 J. Douglas Stewart Sir Godfrey Knellerand the English Baroque Portrait Oxford 1983/>.127 cat. no. 628
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The portrait of Sir John Rushout was painted in 1716, when Kneller, despite having painted portraits in England for forty years, enjoyed a larger and more popular practice than ever before in his career and since 1711 had presided over the country's first Academy of painting and drawing. In the previous year the new monarch King George I, whose portrait Kneller painted, had confirmed his position as Principal Painter in Ordinary, and augmented the previous distinction by conferring a baronetcy, an unprecedented honour for a painter.

The primacy that Kneller enjoyed in his field arose not merely from the reputation that he had secured in the late 1680s as the foremost among the young successors to Sir Peter Lely, nor from his influential patrons and court connections but from his continuing evolution as a painter. This portrait is a superb example of the new, ''Augustan'', classicised style that appears in his painting in the last two decades of his life. In a movement away from the heavy, baroque style of the 1690s Sir John Rushout Bt. exhibits the more linear composition and bolder, lighter tonal harmonies characteristic of this late phase. Where previously Kneller employed the Baroque painter''s stock device of bold contrasts of light and shade, here the light is more evenly distributed. The colour in the later portraits is ''paler and more pastel like'' although in the present example Kneller employs a bold red for the sitter''s coat, around which he has constructed a simple and visually satisfying tonal harmony, in which the splash of red broadly divides the darker browns of the rock in front of which the sitter is standing a conventional piece of portrait staging inherited from Van Dyck that would survive well into the eighteenth century from the brighter greens and blues of landscape.

Two touches in the latter stand out; tonally one is struck by the distant hills, which in a shallow ultramarine bar in the middle of the painting not only suggest recession but provide a focus for the almost abstract arrangement of colour, whilst the detail of the white palling fence suggests a new, informal conception of landscape. The contrast to portraits of the previous century, even to the previous decade, is apparent as Kneller achieves an idiom in keeping with the classical sensibility of the Georgian patron. The drama inherent in the portraits of the previous century has given way to a more restrained rhetoric, and static dignity prevails over the Baroque portrait's sense of agitated movement.

When Sir John Rushout sat to Kneller in 1716 he had just embarked on his political career, and must have felt well-placed to receive the customary rewards of patronage and position. He had inherited the baronetcy from a nephew in 1711, and had resigned his commission in the Blues a year later. His own later recollection casts an interesting light on the dangerous politics of the period, since his commanding officer was known to favour the cause of the exiles Stuart claimant, Prince James Edward Stuart over that of the Elector of Hanover to the English throne at Queen Anne's death:

''When I first came into the army I was a younger brother, I served six or seven years in the Blue Regiment of Horse Guards and was promoted in the year 1710 which I quitted with great regret two years afterwards when the Duke of Ormonde had the command and garbling the army with a view to defeat the Hanoverian Succession, and I had reason to expect I should not have been allowed to have continued in it. About the same time my family estate fell to me, and I was elected into Parliament.''

Rushout was a loyal government man as MP for Malmesbury from 1713 1722 and then for Evesham from 1722 - 1768 until the Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole failed to appoint him Treasurer of the Household, at which point he joined the Opposition, as a supporter of William Pulteney. When Lord Hervey challenged Pulteney to a duel in 1731 over an article the latter had published in The Craftsman, a periodical that Pulteney founded in 1726 expressly for the purpose of attacking Walpole's government, Sir John Rushout acted as his second. A necessary part of Opposition to the Government in eighteenth century politics involved courting the present and future patronage of the Prince of Wales, and Rushout spoke in favour of an increased allowance for the Prince in 1737. In return he hoped for a peerage when Prince Frederick succeeded his father, and he was put down for a peerage in the 1740s as a reward for his loyalty to the Leicester House party.

Rushout enjoyed a taste of government when Walpole''s administration collapsed in 1741, and he became one of Pulteney''s representatives on the new Treasury Board. A letter relates an amusing incident in which Rushout an infrequent and boring speaker ''actually forgot he was lord of the Treasury and spoke against the employment of Hessian and Hanoverian troops in the British service as had been his policy in Opposition, until the astonished faces of his parliamentary colleagues recalled him to his senses and he pleaded confusion due to the heat. Although Rushout was denied high office when Henry Pelham became First Lord of the Treasury in 1743 he was compensated by being appointed Treasurer of the Navy, a highly lucrative post. In the next year he was removed, and revenged himself by trying to sow dissent among the members of the Government, as well as by refusing to make payments from the Navy account for some eight or nine months. When Frederick Prince of Wales died in 1751 without being able to make good his promise of ennoblement, Rushout was obliged to fix his ambition to the Prime Minister the Duke of Newcastle in the continued hope for a peerage, but this too was frustrated, and when Rushout died aged ninety in 1775 it was in the rank of baronet.

Rushout married Lady Anne Compton, daughter of the 4th Earl of Northampton in October 1729, by whom he had a son, John and two daughters. The son was to fulfil his father''s ambitions for the family when he was raised to the peerage as Lord Northwick of North wick Park in October 1797.

The picture collection at Northwick Park in which there hung several important works by Kneller, including a further portrait of Sir John Rushout dated a year earlier than this painting passed through the Lords Northwick until the title became extinct in the nineteenth century, when along with the house it was inherited by Captain Spencer-Churchill, himself a great collector, who added to it until his death in 1965, when the collections at Northwick were sold by Christie's.
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