Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait enamel of Edmund Burke (1729/30-1797) after Ozias Humphry (1742-1810) 

Henry Spicer (1743-1804)

Portrait enamel of Edmund Burke (1729/30-1797) after Ozias Humphry (1742-1810), Henry Spicer
Enamel on copper
18th Century
Oval 4 ½ in. (114 mm.) high
Thought to have been owned by the Burke family; Mr. T. Moreton Wood; Christie's, London, November 7, 1988, lot 84; Bernard Quaritch Ltd.
B. Long, British Miniaturists, (London, 1929) p.418. D. Foskett, Miniatures Dictionary and Guide, (Woodbridge, 1987), p.654.
Royal Academy, London, 1795, no. 487. Portrait Miniatures on loan at the South Kensington Museum, London, June 1865, no. 2228.
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Edmund Burke was a prominent eighteenth-century British politician, orator, author, political thinker and philosopher and is best-known for his support of the American Revolution and his impeachment of Warren Hastings.

The present portrait, painted by the Prince of Wales’s ‘Painter in Enamel’ Henry Spicer, is after a crayon drawing by the artist’s good friend Ozias Humphry, whose portrait Spicer painted along with his brother Rev. W. Humphry in 1799 and 1802 respectively. After Spicer’s death, Ozias Humphry lodged with Spicer’s widow until his own death in 1810. Although the reverse of this miniature states that Spicer worked from Humphry’s drawing, Humphry had taken Burke’s likeness from a well-known portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds, dating to the 1760s – the original of which was in the collection of the Countess Fitzwilliam of Milton Hall, Peterborough. It can be presumed that Spicer and Reynolds also knew each other well, as Reynolds sat to Spicer for an enamel miniature which was exhibited at the Royal Academy, the year of Reynolds’s death in 1792.

Henry Spicer commenced his career studying under the miniature painter Gervase Spencer. Between 1765 and 1783 he exhibited at the Incorporated Society of Artists and became the society’s secretary in 1773. From 1774 he exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts where Joshua Reynolds had been President since 1768 and where he would later exhibit this enamel miniature of Edmund Burke in 1795. This portrait was also exhibited at the Special Exhibition of Portrait Miniatures on loan at the South Kensington Museum in 1865, where it was lent by Mr T. Moreton Wood alongside another portrait of Burke and a sketch of his wife, both by Joshua Reynolds.

Edmund Burke was born to a catholic mother and a protestant father in Dublin but was sent to a Quaker school at the age of eleven at Ballitore, Co. Kildare, where he learnt to appreciate the diversity of Christianity and excel academically. He did not return home to Dublin until 1744 when he attended Trinity College to study law. Burke was little inspired by the course and instead spent much of his time reading outside of his subject, writing poetry and debating. He entered the Middle Temple in 1747 but it was not until three years later that he moved to London with the intention of qualifying for the Irish bar. Burke’s disinterest in law failed to cease and he spent some time wandering the English, Welsh and French countryside, apparently aimless.

Burke appears to have re-entered society in 1756 with his first printed work A Vindication of Natural Society, a harsh criticism of revealed religion and the posthumously published works of Lord Bolingbroke. The following year he wrote A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful which drew attention to him as an author in England for the first time and contributed to the contemporary aesthetic theory. That same year Burke married Jane Nugent and began to forge friendships with some of the most influential individuals of the period including the writers Dr Samuel Johnson and Oliver Goldsmith, portraitist Sir Joshua Reynolds and actor David Garrick.

In 1758 Edmund Burke began The Annual Register, a yearly survey of world affairs and entered politics by becoming secretary to the Marquess of Rockingham in 1765. That same year he entered the House of Commons and in 1774 finally became a Member of Parliament for Bristol.

Burke’s particular political interests included the curtailment of the crown’s influence during the reign of George III and his support for the American Revolution. From 1765, Burke saw British policy on the American colonies as being too inflexible and fundamentally impractical, particularly following the introduction of the Stamp Act which required American colonists to pay tax on every piece of paper they used.

It wasn’t until 1787 that Burke instigated the impeachment of Warren Hastings who had been the Governor-General of Bengal from 1772 until 1785. The trial dragged on for seven years with the support of Burke, Charles James Fox and Richard Brinsley Sheridan, before Hastings was acquitted of all charges in 1795.

At the end of Hasting’s trial Burke retired from politics. He became actively opposed to the French Revolution during the last years of his life and was devastated by the death of his only son, whom he’d hoped would fulfil his political ambitions. Burke died on 9th July 1797 and was buried next to his son and brother at Beaconsfield.
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