Historical Portraits Picture Archive

The Hon. Eleanor Eden, c.1790 

John Hoppner RA (17581810)

The Hon. Eleanor Eden, c.1790, John Hoppner RA
Oil on canvas
18th Century
50 x 40 in (127 x 101.2 cm)
By descent to the sitter''s daughter, wife of the 1st Earl of Ripon; With Leger Galleries, London
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In this portrait Hoppner achieves the perfect fusion of sitter and landscape, presented without the sense of contrivance or literary quotation that is in escapable in some much of the grand manner portraiture of the previous generation. Hoppner realised that portraiture need not justify itself be reference to old master painting or classical mythology, but achieved its goal in itself by engaging directly with the viewer, thereby achieving at a stroke the ''speaking portraiture'' that had been the object of its best theorists. This would not happen, of course, were the intention not accompanied by technical proficiency of the highest order. Hoppner's grasp of colour, light and drawing are combined in a work that -apparently so easy and artless - is an essay in a number of devices that would prove beyond the grasp of the less competent. In particular the fresh complexion of the sitter suggests the honesty and - in the Romantic sense - sensibility of the subject, as does her effortless fusion with the natural world, whilst the diaphanous shawl beneath which her subtly shaded dress and arm appear proclaim that we are looking at a work of the highest technical accomplishment.

Eleanor Eden was the daughter of the 1st Lord Auckland, a minor Tory minister in the administration of William Pitt the Younger. She was, as the portrait suggests, a celebrated beauty, who was at one time mooted as a wife for that statesman. The matter came to nothing - it was rumoured that Pitt feared marriage because of madness in his family - and she married instead on June 1st 1799 Robert Hobart 4th Earl of Buckinghamshire, Secretary of State for War and the Colonies, who gave his name to the capital of Tasmania. They had no children and the title passed to his nephew George Robert Hampden.
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