Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of William Wentworth Fitzwilliam (1748-1833), 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam in the peerage of Great Britain, and 4th Earl Fitzwilliam in the Peerage of Ireland 

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-92)

Portrait of William Wentworth Fitzwilliam (1748-1833), 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam in the peerage of Great Britain, and 4th Earl Fitzwilliam in the Peerage of Ireland, Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 in (75 x 62.2 cm)
Commissioned by Anthony Morris Storer (1746-1799) in 1785; Thence by descent until sold; Major A.M. Storer sale, Sotheby’s, 24th March 1920, lot 47; With Agnew’s, as ‘Sir William Beechey, Portrait of a Gentleman’; English Private Collection.
A. Graves & W.V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Vol 1. London, 1899, p. 318; E.K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, London,1941, p.77; David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2000, p.197, no. 649, fig. 1459 (as ‘untraced’).
This portrait marks an important re-discovery of a lost work by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Listed as ‘untraced’ in David Mannings’ 2000 catalogue raisonné, and unknown since it was sold at auction in 1920, the picture was found by this gallery in a minor saleroom described as a work by an unknown artist of an unknown sitter.

The portrait is one of two likeness of Fitzwilliam by Reynolds. The first was painted in about 1763/4, and may have been commissioned to celebrate Fitzwilliam leaving Eton [known in two versions, Marquess Zetland and the Fitzwilliam Trustees]. Most unusually, however, the pose seen in the present portrait is an exact recreation of the earlier likeness. It would appear that the later portrait was a conscious attempt to capture the sitter’s changed (or rather, relatively unchanged) features since he was a boy. Such a theory is perhaps strengthened by the fact that the present portrait was commissioned by, and belonged to, Fitzwilliam’s friend, the collector and politician Anthony Morris Storer. Both were at Eton together, along with Charles James Fox (who called him ‘my dear Fitz’), and left in 1764. A payment of fifty guineas is recorded in Reynolds’ ledger in July 1785: ‘Earl of Fitzwilliams. Paid by Mr Storer’. One year earlier, in 1784, Reynolds also painted Fitzwilliam’s wife, Charlotte (1747-1822) [Fitzwilliam Trustees], while in 1789 he would paint their only child, Charles William Wentworth (1786-1857), later 5th Earl Fitzwilliam [also Fitzwilliam Trustees].

William Wentworth Fitzwilliam (1748 – 1833) was the eldest son of William Fitzwilliam (1720 – 1756), and his wife, Lady Anne (d. 1769), the daughter of Thomas Watson-Wentworth, first Marquess of Rockingham. After leaving Eton, Fitzwilliam embarked on the ubiquitous Grand Tour. Visiting France (‘a set of low, mean, impertinent people’), Switzerland and Italy, he gained an appreciation for culture and art, returning permanently to England in 1769 with a small collection of paintings by artists such as Guercino, Guido Reni, and Canaletto. Later that year he took his seat in the House of Lords, where he was an early supporter of John Wilkes, and sympathetic to the American colonists. In 1770 he married Lady Charlotte Ponsoby (1747 – 1822), daughter of the second earl of Bessborough.

In 1782 Fitzwilliam’s life was dramatically transformed by the death of his maternal uncle, the Whig grandee and former Prime Minister Charles Watson-Wentworth, 2nd Marquess of Rockingham. At a stroke, Fitzwilliam became one of the largest and richest landowners in England, inheriting estates that included Wentworth Woodhouse, then the largest mansion in the country. Much of his wealth stemmed from the vast reserves of coal around Wentworth, the open cast mining of which would later, in an act of extreme vandalism, be taken virtually up to the front door of the house after the war by the Labour minister Manny Shinwell.

Fitzwilliam was also obliged to follow a more prominent political career, for after Rockingham’s death Edmund Burke wrote that he now had Rockingham’s ‘place to fill and his example to follow…’ In truth, however, Fitzwilliam, did not achieve, and nor did he aspire to, the heights of his late uncle’s career. While he was more or less active as a leading figure of the Whig party until his death, he found himself for much of the time in opposition, mainly to William Pitt the Younger, and not least because the Whigs never entirely recovered from Charles James Fox’s occasionally shocking views on the French Revolution, with which Fitzwilliam disagreed. He was briefly Lord Lieutenant of Ireland under the Pitt-Portland coalition, arriving in Dublin in January 1795. But his attempts to change the Irish administration without approval from London resulted in him being recalled. He returned to London now opposed to the government, writing in September 1795; ‘I stand unconnected with any political party.’ He was appointed Lord Lieutenant of the West Riding in 1798, a post he held until 1819 when he was dismissed after chairing a protest meeting against the Peterloo massacre.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.