Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of William Craven, later 1st Earl of Craven (1770-1825), c.1780 

Thomas Beach (1737-1806)

Portrait of William Craven, later 1st Earl of Craven (1770-1825), c.1780, Thomas Beach
Oil on canvas
18th Century
Oval, 53 ¾ x 38 ¼ ins., (136.5 x 97.2 cm.)
William, 7th Baron Craven and 1st Earl of Craven (1770-1825); Thence by descent to Cornelia, Countess of Craven (1877-1961); Her deceased sale, Sotheby's London, 27 November 1968, lot 1; Richard Green Galleries, London; Private collection, UK.
Catalogue of works at Coombe Abbey, 1866, no. 208
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William Craven was born on 1 September 1770 and was the eldest son of William Craven, 6th Baron Craven of Hampsted Marshall and Lady Elizabeth Berkeley. From 1781 William studied at Eton College, however his attentions soon turned to military service and in 1786 he gained the rank of officer in the Berkshire Militia. In 1791, following the death of his father, William was made 7th Baron Craven, and two years later he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel of the newly raised 84th (York and Lancaster) Regiment of Foot. In 1794, during the early years of the French Revolutionary Wars, the 84th Foot were sent to the Netherlands to assist with Campaign in the Low Countries, and the same year Craven appears to have switched to the 3rd Foot. In 1798 he promoted to Colonel of the 3rd Foot and between 1798 and 1805 he was Aide-de-Camp to King George III. In 1801 Craven was created 1st Viscount Uffington and the same year 1st Earl of Craven. In 1805 he gained the rank of Major-General, followed by Lieutenant-General in 1811 and General later in 1825, the same year he died.

In 1807 Craven married Louisa Brunton, daughter of John Brunton, a theatre manager from Norwich, and together they had four sons and one daughter, the eldest son, William, inherited the Earldom on his father’s death.

Although a painter of national importance, Beach, who was born and died in Dorset, maintained a practice rooted in the south west of England. He was educated at Abbey Milton grammar school and, showing a remarkable talent for painting and drawing from a young age, was sent by Lord Milton to London to train with Sir Joshua Reynolds and the St Martin’s Lane Academy, from 1760 until 1762.

He exhibited at the Society of Artists between 1772 and 1783 whilst residing in Bath where, like many artists at the time, he was able to build-up a clientele of the fashionable, young elite and landowning families. He also exhibited at the Royal Academy from 1785 to 1790 and again in 1797 from addresses in London. From June to December he left the capital to visit Devon and Somerset patrons and painted them at Bath and at their houses.

For Beach, London attracted slightly different sitters to those he painted in Bath and, greatly interested in the theatre, met several patrons including professional actors, actresses and critics in the capital. Amongst these performers Thomas Beach met Sarah Siddons, the most famous tragic actress of the eighteenth century, and painted her on two separate occasions whilst she was performing in Bath in 1782. His first painting of Siddons was a seated composition and his second, far more ambitious, was based on Milton’s Il Penseroso with Sarah Siddons as Melancholy. Both of these portraits were produced two years before Joshua Reynolds painted the famous Siddons in 1784 as the Tragic Muse and three years before Gainsborough commented ‘confound the nose, there’s no end to it’ whilst painting her in 1785.

Beach continued working at least as late as 1802, the date of his Self portrait [National Portrait Gallery, London] which shows a contented and prosperous artist looking back on a career with perhaps some deserved satisfaction. Beach died in Dorchester in 1806.
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