Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of General the Marquess Townshend (1724-1807) 1770s late

Angelica Kauffmann RA (1741-1807)

Portrait of General the Marquess Townshend (1724-1807), Angelica Kauffmann RA
Oil on canvas
18th Century
50 x 40 inches 127 x 101.2 cm
The sitter; The collection of the Marquesses Townshend, Raynham Hall, Fakenham, Norfolk; Heirlooms Sale (n.d. label verso).
The present portrait painted in Ireland is a significant rediscovery. Its importance lies both in terms of filling a known gap in Kauffmann's oeuvre and in its interest for Irish history in depicting the Lord-Lieutenant, George Townshend, who became a friend of the artist when the two met in Rome in 1776.

Kauffman’s graceful, elegant style accorded well with the prevailing rococo taste of England in the eighteenth century, and there was much demand for her style of delicate and colourful portraiture seen here. However, Kauffman was by temperament a neo-classicist who preferred history painting. It is no surprise that the present portrait shows Thomas Reade allegorized in the manner of a history painting. His seventeenth century ‘Van Dyck’ dress was a conscious attempt by English portraitists, from Hudson to Gainsborough, to capture the elegant manner first practiced by Van Dyck himself. The practice was taken one step further by Kauffman, who, after a prodigious upbringing spent touring the courts of European dignitaries in her childhood (a la Mozart) was much influenced by pioneering neo-classicists and history painters such as Benjamin West, Gavin Hamilton and Nathaniel Dance when studying in Rome. This was a further indication not only of her talent, but determination to succeed in a male dominated world - history painting, with its large canvasses, complex narratives, and often tortured poses was then considered the most challenging type of art one could practice. Nevertheless, Kauffman emphatically succeeded. Her success in Rome was immediate, and she became known as both a history painter and portraitist, painting such travelling ‘Grand Tourers’ as David Garrick and Brownlow Cecil, Earl of Essex.

Kauffman soon accepted the inevitable invitation to continue her career in England. On her arrival in 1766 she soon became a favourite of Joshua Reynolds, himself an advocate of history painting. Gossip suggested that for the advances of one artist, she had forsaken another – Nathaniel Dance was sorely disappointed in Kauffman’s refusal of his hand in marriage. In any case, Kauffman’s easy manner and skill led to much society patronage, from Royalty downwards. She became a founding member of the Royal Academy in 1768.

After a disastrously brief marriage to an imposter with the improbable name of Count Von Horn, Kauffman left England for Rome once more. There, her studio became a focal point of the Grand Tour. She became friends with Goethe, Canova and Sir William Hamilton. Her patrons included the royalty of almost all Europe, such as Catherine the Great of Russia, and Joseph II of Austria. Her works can now be found in museums and galleries across the world.

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