Historical Portraits Picture Archive

The Hon. Robert Cholmondeley, his wife and son in a garden. 1750c.

Arthur Devis 

The Hon. Robert Cholmondeley, his wife and son in a garden., Arthur Devis
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Oil on canvas
18th Century
39 x 49 inches 99 x 124.5 cm
 
Provenance:
Ellen G. D''Oench Arthur Devis (1712 - 1787) : Master of the Georgian Conversation Piece PhD Thesis, Yale University 1979 no. 249; Ellen G. D''Oench List of Works by Arthur Devis in The Conversation Piece: Arthur Devis and hgis contemporaries 1980 p.92 no.249
Literature:
Ellen G. D''Oench Arthur Devis (1712 - 1787) : Master of the Georgian Conversation Piece PhD Thesis, Yale University 1979 no. 249; Ellen G. D''Oench List of Works by Arthur Devis in The Conversation Piece: Arthur Devis and hgis contemporaries 1980 p.92 no.249
A recent reconsideration of this portrait supports the traditional identification of the sitters as Captain The Hon. and Rev. Robert Cholmondeley, brother of the 3rd Earl Cholmondeley, his wife Mary Woffington and a child who may be their son George James Cholmondeley (1752 - 1830). When sold by Sotheby's in 1974 the portrait had been paired with a painting of children in a Palladian interior known as The Cholmondeley Children. This identity has been disputed, and the latter portrait now hangs in the Yale Centre for the Study of British Art, New Haven as Children in an Interior.

It was felt by Ellen D'Oench1 that our portrait must date to c.1741 - 43, which would make the sitter too old be Mr Cholmondeley, and would mean that the portrait antedated his marriage in November 1746. However, a comparison of later paintings in Devis''s oeuvre would make a date of 1753 - 5 quite plausible.2

There is no incongruity in the dress of Mr Cholmondeley, which is less modish than that of many of Devis's sitters at this date on account of the fact that he is a clergyman. The plain, fustian suit and old-fashioned wig are paralleled in contemporary portraits of clergymen, not least in Devis's own portrait of The Rev. H. Say and his Wife of 1752, which also follows the present portrait in showing a clergyman without bands. Circumstantially the strong family likeness between the sitter in this portrait and his brother Lord Cholmondeley in paintings by William Hogarth and Thomas Bardwell would further support the identification. In addition, there exists a circle of Devis patronage around the Walpole family of which Mr Cholmondeley was a member. His mother was Lady Mary Walpole, daughter of the famous Robert, whose half-sister Lady Maria Walpole was painted by Devis with her husband George Churchill.

Although Devis is certainly guilty, following contemporary practice, of supplying his portraits with fictitious backgrounds, some have been identified and reveal that he could depict settings with great accuracy. The garden in this portrait shows a long pool stocked with fish at the end of which is a chinoiserie pavilion. To the side are the carefully managed allees and wilderness of the Augustan garden, which now survive only in reconstructions and at Lord Burlington's villa at Chiswick. If these are true representations of the Cholmondeleys' garden it would be an important record of the formal layout at Cholmondeley Castle in Cheshire, shortly before it was swept away in the 1770s.




1.List of works by Arthur Devis in The Conversation Piece: Arthur Devis and his Contemporaries 1980 no. 249

2.Stephen Sartin of the Judges''s Lodgings Museum, Lancaster, former Keeper of Fine Art at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, agrees that there seems little reason to prefer a date of c.1741 to that of a decade later, and much in our portrait comparable with works of the 1750s such as Henry Fiennes Clinton 9th Earl of Lincoln, his wife Catherine and son George (Private Collection).
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.