Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Richardson (1664/5-1745): Portrait of Philip Dormer Stanhope 4th Earl of Chesterfield 1728c.

Jonathan Richardson 

Richardson (1664/5-1745): Portrait of Philip Dormer Stanhope 4th Earl of Chesterfield, Jonathan Richardson
Oil on canvas
18th Century
36 x 28 inches 91.8 x 71.8 cms
Private Collection USA
This portrait of the celebrated diplomat, statesman and arbiter, now best known for his Letters to his son, that guide to augustan manners, deportment and the oriental politics of the Court and Society, was painted in or shortly after 1730, and may well have been commissioned to commemorate the sitter’s appointment as a Knight of the Garter, the order whose collar he wears over the ermine of his peer’s Coronation robes. On likeness the portrait shows the sitter at around the same age as a signed and dated portrait by William Verelst (Glamis Castle) painted in 1732.

At the time this portrait was painted, Chesterfield was serving as Ambassador to the Hague, to which he had been appointed in 1728. It was at this date that he was making a name for himself both as an astute diplomat and as a thorn in the side of Sir Robert Walpole’s government, of which he was an implacable opponent. He was rare among Walpole’s opponents, however, in that the great minister lacked the confidence to overthrow him; Chesterfield’s influence with King George was considerable, assiduously cultivated during the years when the King had been Prince of Wales. Walpole disliked enough the fact that at George’s accession in 1727 Chesterfield – who had succeeded his father in the previous year – was nominated a Privy Councillor. The King, despite Walpole’s protestations, considered this an insufficient mark of favour and to Walpole’s chagrin he was sent to the Hague as ambassador. There in 1730 he opened the negotiations for the marriage of William Prince of Orange with Anne Princess Royal. On June 18th of the same year he returned to England to be installed as a Knight of the Garter at Windsor Castle. On the following day he was appointed Lord Steward of the Household, an office he held until 1733 when his opposition to Walpole and to the passage of the Prime Minister’s Excise Bill through the house led to his dismissal at Walpole’s insistence from this office. The King was not capable of resisting his Prime Minister when he was determined on a course of action, and Chesterfield absented himself from Court, never to return. The fact that the White Wand of the Lord Steward does not appear in this portrait – as it so conspicuously does in the portrait by Verelst, for example – may lead one to believe that Chesterfield sat to Richardson in the period shortly after his dismissal.

In September 1733 Chesterfield achieved a brilliant coup that brought him a great deal of money with little inconvenience, and made a public show both of his contempt for his sovereign and his indifference to royal displeasure. He married Melusina von der Schulenberg. Illegitimate daughter of King George I’s mistress, the Duchess of Kendal and thus the King’s half-sister. Chesterfield was indifferent to his new wife beyond her considerable income – 50,000l in a lump sum and 3,000l per annum from the Irish Civil List – and celebrated the occasion by taking a new mistress. Lord and Lady Chesterfield lived apart, although as neighbours in adjoining houses. Chesterfield’s quarrel with the King was not to end until 1743 when the Countess’s mother died, and Chesterfield suspected the King of destroying a will that would have left a further 40,000 l to the Countess. Chesterfield began an action against the Crown in his wife’s behalf, but was eventually pacified by a payment of 20,000l.

Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.