Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Thomas Barrett-Lennard, 17th Lord Dacre (1717-1786) c. 1737

Andrea Soldi 

Portrait of Thomas Barrett-Lennard, 17th Lord Dacre (1717-1786), Andrea Soldi
Oil on canvas
18th Century
49 x 39½ inches, 125 x 100 cm
By descent from the sitter to his natural son, Sir Thomas Barrett-Lennard, 1st Bt. (1762-1857); Thence by descent to Sir Richard Barrett-Lennard, 4th Bt. (1861-1934); His sale, at Belhus, Essex, with Alfred Savill & Sons, May 1923, lot 943, as by Isaac Whood, where bought by; Robert Henry Brand, 1st Baron Brand (1878-1963), fourth son of Henry Robert, 24th Baron Dacre (1841-1906); Thence by descent until sold; Sothebys, London 6th June 2007, lot 24 as by Isaac Whood.
Until recently, this superb portrait was thought to be by the English artist, Isaac Whood. It is in fact by the Italian artist Andrea Soldi, who worked in England from about 1736. It shows the compositional ingenuity and technical innovation brought to England from the continent in the later 1730s, and the Italianate flair that breathed new life into an artistic scene still emerging from the sober dominance of Kneller. This newly discovered work – one of Soldi’s first in England – forces us to reconsider both his talent and his impact on English painting.

We know few of Soldi’s biographical details, but can get an idea of the impact he made on his arrival in England by looking at the immediate demand for his work. The art historian George Vertue relates that he began ‘above thirty portraits large and small’ between April and August 1738 alone [Vertue notebooks, vol. III, p.84], with patrons including the Dukes of Manchester and Beaufort, and Viscount Fauconberg. However, Soldi’s success was short-lived – his rapid rise led to a lifestyle of unwarranted profligacy, and in 1744 he landed with a bump in debtor’s prison.

From then on Soldi was unable to retain the momentum of his early success. From the 1740s until the end of his artistic career in the mid 1760s Soldi’s clientele was drawn principally from the middle classes, such as the gardener John Greening [Kentchurch Court]. As a result, Soldi’s later works, constrained by his sitters’ more conservative taste, contain little of the flair seen in the present picture. And, since it is by these later, more numerous pictures that Soldi is generally judged, his reputation has suffered.

The emergence of more pictures such as the present example allows us to focus on Soldi’s most successful works. Other contemporary portraits of the present sitter, Lord Dacre, show the contrast Soldi would have presented to English patrons in the 1730s. Dacre had been painted a few years earlier by John Vanderbank, an artist schooled in the traditions of Kneller [Sothebys, 14th March 1984, lot 40]. While the Vanderbank picture is a good enough likeness, it carries none of the theatricality of the present portrait. The colours seen here are far bolder than anything seen in England at that time, such as the rich blue of the sitter’s coat. The fresh, vibrant flesh tones also differ from those used by Soldi’s English contemporaries, who tended to rely on thinner layers of transparent pink over a colder, grey ground. Here, Soldi’s bravura technique looks forward to the later life-sized portraits of Hogarth, such as ‘Mary Edwards’ [Frick Collection, New York].

Thomas Barrett-Lennard inherited the Barony of Dacre, one of the oldest in England, through his mother, Anne, in 1755. He had been educated at Harrow, and was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn in 1733/4. In politics he was nominally a Whig, and is recorded as a defender of Wilkes in 1763. His personality appears to have been dominated by hypochondria; “a martyr to rheumatic gout” said an obituary, but a friend, Horace Mann, noted “that he is not so ill as he thinks” [John Ingamells ed., A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy (1701-1800), p.53]. He married, in 1739, Anna Maria Pratt, daughter of the Lord Chief Justice, Sir John Pratt. Their only child, Anne, died at a young age. He had two illegitimate children by a mistress, who were both brought up by him and his wife as their own children, and lived at Belhus, near Colchester in Essex. The eldest, Thomas Fitzthomas, later inherited the family estate, and, after gaining a baronetcy in 1801, became Sir Thomas Barrett-Lennard.

Described as a ‘very elegant scholar’, Lord Dacre took a keen interest in all things artistic and architectural. He was fascinated by the rediscovered ‘gothick’ style, and, with the help of his friend Horace Walpole, of Strawberry Hill fame, remodeled Belhus in the gothic taste. Capability Brown was employed to landscape the park and gardens. Dacre was painted by Vanderbank, Isaac Whood, Soldi, and Pompeo Batoni, and had his daughter painted by Thomas Hudson. He almost certainly features in Joshua Reynolds ‘Parody on The School of Athens’, for which he sat while on an extensive Italian grand tour with his wife between 1749-51.

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