Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Admiral Sir George Rooke (1650 - 1709) 1690c.

Michael Dahl (1659-1743)

Portrait of Admiral Sir George Rooke (1650 - 1709), Michael Dahl
Oil on canvas
17th Century
47 x 38 inches, 119.4 x 96.5 cm
The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich Christies, London, 10th November 1995, Lot 85
A Concise Catalogue of Oil Paintings in the National Maritime Museum, Woodbridge 1988, no. BHC 2974 (d)
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Rooke is known as one of the Royal Navy’s most illustrious figures. His first commission came in 1672, at the age of 22, during the frequent engagements with the Dutch fleet in the Channel and the North Sea. Early engagements soon earn the young Rooke praise from the admiralty, and in 1674 he was given command of his own ship, the 20 gun Holmes. Relative peace thereafter saw Rooke involved in only minor action, until the outbreak of the Nine Year’s War in 1688.

After comparative success in the first battles of the war, such as Bantry Bay and efforts to prevent the French sending military support to the deposed James II in Ireland, Rooke was promoted to Rear Admiral. In 1690 he commanded six ships at the Battle of Beachy Head, but the English defeat there appears not to have stopped Rooke’s rapid rise. He was promoted to Vice Admiral, and took command of the Eagle after the battle of Barfleur in 1692 and hunted down and destroyed 12 French ships. This effectively forced the French Navy out of major engagements of the line during the remainder of the war. Rooke was knighted by the King at Portsmouth in February 1693, and was given the substantial reward of £1000.

Soon after, however, Rooke was involved in the debacle of the Smyrna convoy operation. Appointed to the command personally by William III of a fleet of merchant ships, the Turkey Company, into the Mediterranean, Rooke’s force was surprised by a well informed French force off the Portuguese coast. The French captured or destroyed ships worth £1 million. Despite this setback, Rooke escaped censure, and, having earned praise for his defensive tactics during the engagement, was promoted to Admiral.

At the conclusion of the war, Rooke entered politics, and became Member of Parliament for Portsmouth. However, the outbreak of the War of the Spanish Succession took Rooke back into action in command of the Channel Fleet in 1701. In 1702 he succeeded in capturing part of the Spanish Silver fleet, the rewards for which were obviously considerable, and he was appointed a Privy Councilor by Queen Anne.

In 1703, after a failed attempt on Barcelona in support of the Habsburg claimant Charles, Rooke was commanded to attack Gibraltar. After a bombardment of three days, Rooke secured the surrender of the garrison holding the fort for the Bourbon candidate to the Spanish throne, Philip V. Gibraltar has thereafter remained in British hands. A statue was erected to Rooke in Gibraltar in 2004.

Rooke is shown here in front of a naval battle, in which an English ship in full sail is shown on the sitter’s left firing from all three decks. A sinking ship can be seen in front. The battle continues behind Rooke’s right arm, which is resting on a canon. He wears a relatively simple coat, with a baton in his left hand. Rooke evidently favoured Dahl, for he painted all of his known portraits. This is Dahl’s earliest depiction of Rooke, and can be dated stylistically to the 1690s. The battle scene is therefore probably one of Rooke’s numerous engagements against the French in the Nine Years War. The painting may have been commissioned to record Rooke’s promotion to Admiral in 1693, or his knighthood of the same year.
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