Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Charles, 5th Earl of Elgin and 9th Earl of Kincardine 1754c.

Allan Ramsay (1713-84)

Portrait of Charles, 5th Earl of Elgin and 9th Earl of Kincardine, Allan Ramsay
Oil on canvas
18th Century
93 x 57inches, 236.2 x 144.8cm
Charles, 5th Earl of Elgin and 9th Earl of Kincardine; Martha, Countess of Elgin, his wife, by whom bequeathed to her third son; Hon. Charles Andrew Bruce (1738-1810), Governor of Prince of Wales Island, by whom bequeathed to his second wife; Charlotte Sophia Dashwood, daughter of Thomas Dashwood by whom possibly bequeathed to her son; Hon. Charles Dashwood Bruce (1802-1864), who died without issue, and thence by descent to; Cuthbert Dashwood of The Mount, Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, and thence to his sister; Constance Dashwood, from whom acquired by her cousin; Hugh Farmar MVO in 1965.
Alistair Smart, ‘Allan Ramsay, A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings’, (London 1999) no. 150.
Allan Ramsay’s full-length portraits rank amongst the finest English paintings of the mid-eighteenth century. This epic portrayal of the 5th Earl of Elgin, painted about 1754, is reminiscent of Ramsay’s iconic Chief of Macleod of c.1747 [Dunvegan Castle]. Both portraits are important examples of the dramatic changes in portraiture born out of the development of the grand manner in the 1740s and 50s.

This portrait, as with the Macleod portrait, incorporate elements of the antique, such as the commanding pose of the Apollo Belvedere, which influenced generations of painters who traveled to Italy in search of artistic training, as Ramsay did in 1736, and again in 1754, at about the time this portrait was painted. The adoption of such dramatic poses was in marked contrast to the more demur and static poses used by many of Ramsay’s contemporaries, such as Thomas Hudson, whose poses were based as much on etiquette than artistic composition, and tended to be stiff and lacking in movement. Ramsay, however, was one of a new generation of painters whose supreme skill with the brush allowed them to break free from such conventions, or the “St Martin''s Lane school” of art, as it was known, which was still dominated by the occasionally pedestrian influence of late seventeenth century artists such as Godfrey Kneller. The Ramsays and Reynolds of this new generation sought to achieve more than merely capture an accurate likeness. Thus the English grand manner was born.

The dramatic effect of this new approach to English portraiture can be seen in the present portrait of Lord Elgin. In a bid to induce a sense of exotic grandeur Ramsay has situated Elgin in an entirely fantastical Indian hunting scene, with a hilltop fort receding in the background. Such ‘props’ are typical of the more dynamic and expressive artistic vocabulary used by Ramsay, and are seen at their best in full-lengths. The composition is designed to show Elgin in a flash of symbolic grandeur, caught in a moment of reflection with his rifle resting on the ground. The effect is completed through the bright red costume contrasting with the dark blues of the heavy sky, as Elgin is forcefully projected towards the viewer from the centre of the canvas.
Charles Bruce, 5th Earl of Elgin and 9th Earl of Kincardine, was the leading member of one of Scotland’s most eminent families, and claimed descent from Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots. He succeeded to his father’s title at the age of just eight. The enormous family debts did not prevent the usual aristocratic upbringing; Rugby School, St Andrew’s University, and a Grand Tour. In 1759 he joined the Royal Regiment of Dragoons, and his wife Martha, who later became governess to George IV’s daughter, Princess Charlotte.
Elgin remained in Scotland almost all his adult life. He devoted time to his estate at Broomhall in Fife, which he established as a model working estate, with fine worker’s dwellings in the newly constructed village of Charlestown. He died suddenly on 14 May 1771, at the age of thirty-nine, and was succeeded by his son William. His grandson Thomas became famous for bringing the Elgin marbles to London from the Parthenon.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.