Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Anne, Lady Brabazon (née Molyneux) (d.1803) 

John Astley (1724-87)

Anne, Lady Brabazon (née Molyneux) (d.1803), John Astley
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
21 3/16 x 14 15/16 inches, 53.8cm x 38cm
English Private Collection
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After a period of study under Thomas Hudson in the early 1740s, John Astley journeyed, like most aspiring English artists, to Rome. He there learnt drawing under the great Pompeo Batoni, and found himself in the company of a host of young British artists such as Joshua Reynolds. Astley’s obvious skill was spotted by the foremost English patron then in Italy, Horace Mann, whose portrait Astley painted in 1751 [Lewis Walpole Library, USA]. Astley returned to London in 1752 and left for Ireland in 1756, where in three years he made £3,000 from painting, and married a 'suitable Irish girl'.

However, Astley’s undoubted talent for portraiture was never matched by either his industry or discipline. His greatest success in life in fact came from a fortuitous marriage to an aged widow, whose prompt death left him fantastically rich. Her fortune allowed the dashing, reckless, conceited, yet clever artist to ignore painting professionally and spend up to £150,000 of her estate. The satirist Anthony Pasquin penned the following unflattering portrait;

“'He thought that every advantage in civil society was compounded in women and wine: and, acting up to this principal of bliss, he gave his body to Euphrosyne, and his intellects to madness. He was as ostentatious as a peacock, and as amorous as the Persian Sophi; he would never stir abroad without his bag and his sword; and, when the beauties of Ierne sat to him for their portraits, he would affect to neglect the necessary implements of his art, and use his naked sword as a moll-stick. He had a haram and a bath at the top of his house, replete with every enticement and blandishment to awaken desire; and he thus lived, jocund and thoughtless, until his nerves were unstrung by age; when his spirits decayed with his animal powers, and he sighed and drooped into eternity!”

This portrait would have been painted soon after Astley’s arrival in Ireland c.1758 and depicts Anne Brabazon (née Molyneux) (d.1803), daughter of Sir Capel Molneux, 3rd Bt. and Elizabeth East. It is a study for a large group portrait of the Molyneux Family [now in Ulster Museum] which shows Anne resting on her father’s knee, accompanied by brothers Capel and George. The family seat was Castle Dillon, Co. Armagh, where the family portrait used to hang, Anne’s father having succeeded to the title in 1739. James Latham (1696-1747) also painted Sir Capel Molyneux earlier in 1740, perhaps to mark the sitter’s accession to the title [Tate Britain].

The ambitious Molyneux family portrait is the only painting which the artist is known to have signed, and may be a reflection of his high regard for the work. It is through The Molyneux Family that scholars have been able to attribute many more portraits to Astley, including a large group of eleven figures of Earl and Countess of Tyrone and their family, also wearing Van Dyckian attire. Anne married Sir Anthony Brabazon, 1st Bt., of New Park, Co. Mayo in 1774, and had two children.
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