Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Warren Hastings Governor General of India (1732 - 1818) 1795c.

Lemuel Francis Abbott (c.1760-1802)

Portrait of Warren Hastings Governor General of India (1732 - 1818), Lemuel Francis Abbott
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76 x 63.5 cm
Private Collection USA
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The name of Warren Hastings deserves to be known to history for his achievements as first Governor General of India, a post that held from 1774 to 1784. During this period he tranformed the East India Company from a mere trading organisation to a military and naval power in the Subcontinent. The jealousy of his enemies at home, however, and the ambiguous means by which he assured the loyalty of and secured money from the native princes led to a remarkable and lengthy trial before the House of Commons and it is this with which his name is synonymous.

The trial began in 1788 under the aegis of Edmund Burke, who superintended a team of 'managers' for its conduct, one of whom was the young Charles Grey, later Earl Grey Prime Minister. Hastings was accused of numerous instances of corruption in raising ''loans'' from Indian rulers to finance his administration and maintain peace among the violently divided natives. The trial did not conclude until, and though culminating in the acquital of Hastings, he was himself left bankrupt by the expenses of his defence and ruined physically by a decade of accusation and suspicion.

The portraits of Hastings by Lemuel Francis Abbott dramatically record the ravages of this experience, and provide a telling contrast with the elegant and youthful figure recorded by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the later 1760s, or that painted by Tilly Kettle early in the following decade, when he was about to embark on his career. The Abbott painting provides an intriguing glimpse of character, however. Hastings was a man of considerable sensitivity and some interest in the culture of India - he encouraged the translation of the Baghavad Gita - and the face that is preserved in the Abbott portraits is that of a man of taste and intelligence, whose long service and ingenuity has received no appropriate reward.

The popularity of the man and of the image is attested by the multiplicity of surviving images. The Abbott portrait exists in the collections of Westminster School, the National Portrait Gallery and several private collections, whilst overall Hastings must be one of the most frequently painted men of his time. After his impeachment he was painted not only by Abbott, but by Thomas Stothard, in a portrait that closely resembles the present composition, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, Sir William Beechey and George Romney, . His celebrity whilst still in office is understandable: it is most important to note, however, than there was no lessening in the desire for his image during and after the sensation of his trial. Indeed, he was so much the greater figure for it, and the mass of his portraiture dates from this time of particular crisis.

Lemuel Francis Abbott is best known for his portraits of naval officers and government officials, and of these his portraits of Admiral Lord Nelson and Warren Hastings are the most celebrated. He trained under Francis Hayman in London, and then locally in his native Leicestershire. Curiously his career was interrupted by insanity in 1798, from which he never recovered, although portraits by him were exhibited at the Royal Academy subsequently, including one of Lord Nelson in 1800.
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