Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, second Marquess of Londonderry (1769–1822) 1790s

Hugh Douglas Hamilton 

Portrait of Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, second Marquess of Londonderry (1769–1822), Hugh Douglas Hamilton
Oil on canvas
19th Century
31 ¼ x 25 ½ inches, 77 x 64 cm
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Robert Stewart, known for most of his life, and to posterity as Lord Castlereagh, is one of the curious paradoxes of nineteenth century politics. Today he is remembered as one of the giants of his age, and is ranked amongst the greatest foreign secretaries this country has known. But during his lifetime he was extremely unpopular. The King disliked him, Canning hated him, and the public jeered his funeral procession. After his death, Byron wrote;

“Posterity will ne’er survey
A nobler grave than this:
Here lie the bones of Castlereagh:
Stop, traveller, and piss.”

After an effortlessly brilliant rise through the ranks of Irish politics, where he advocated the Union, but only alongside Catholic emancipation, Castlereagh joined Addington’s cabinet in 1802 as President of the Board of Control (that is, India). In 1805, during Pitt’s brief return to the Premiership, he was appointed to the War and Colonial office, where, despite resigning the post briefly under Grenville, he began his long and ultimately successful involvement in the defeat of Napoleon. It was Castlereagh who early championed one Arthur Wellesely, increased his army, and sent him to the Peninsular in 1809. Ultimately, Castlreagh’s early efforts ended in failure, for, with George Canning, then Foreign Secretary, he was responsible for the disastrous Walcheren Expedition of 1809, where over four thousand troops died of disease while attempting to fight Napoleon in Holland. He and Canning later fought a duel as a result, the latter being slightly wounded. Castlereagh resigned.

However, in 1812 Castlereagh made a triumphant return to Government as Foreign Secretary under Lord Liverpool. Under his confident direction the war against Napoleon began to turn in Britain’s favour. He again increased troops in the Peninsular, and brokered a peace between Turkey, Sweden and Russia, which, alongside sizeable foreign subsidies, led to the formation of a formidable coalition against the French. Ultimately, it was this concerted, and unprecedented, diplomatic alliance, together with Wellington’s military expertise, the led to Napoleon’s fall in 1814. At the Congress of Vienna, Castlereagh not only drew up the peace terms, but also signed a declaration abolishing, with other European nations, slavery.

Castlereagh was instinctively opposed to the plan to send Napoleon to Elba. After the latter’s escape, and subsequent final defeat at Waterloo, it was Castlereagh who chose St Helena, safely in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, as the Emperor’s final place of incarceration. After the war, Castlereagh instigated the Congress system of Europe, where, for the first time, European nations attempted to settle differences by concerted diplomacy through bi-annual meetings. The system collapsed in 1822, the year of Castlereagh’s death. Under pressure of overwork and ill-health, he committed suicide by cutting his neck with a letter opener at his estate in Ireland. Despite his part in the allied victory, he had, as Leader of the Commons, become associated with the Government’s worsening domestic record, and much disliked. He was particularly, if wrongly, blamed for the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 – Shelley’s biting description of the time began; “I met Murder on the way / He had a face like Castlereagh.”

Hugh Douglas Hamilton was trained at the Dublin Society’s Schools between 1750 and 1756 by Robert West, and was frequently a winner of prizes. The earlier part of Hamilton’s career was devoted to portraits drawn in pastel, which enabled him to build up a large clientele without competing with his more established, oil-painting contemporaries such as Nathaniel Hone. By the 1770s when the artist had moved to London his practice was described as ''extensive and fashionable''.

As with so many painters, it was not until he visited Italy in 1779 that he began to explore the true potential of his talent. Italy afforded him the opportunity to meet other artists as well as to make the acquaintance of cultivated patrons, such as the Earl Bishop of Derry. He remained in Italy until 1792, becoming the close friend of other artists such as Antonio Canova. When Hamilton returned to Dublin he had been away in Rome for nearly thirteen years, during which time he had portrayed the exiled Prince Charles Edward Stuart and his daughter the Duchess of Albany, and notable British and Irish Grand Tourists - including Lord Boyle and the Earl Spencer. He had also gained good experience of the effects and practice of oil painting, which he set about in Dublin on his return.

Between 1792 until his retirement in 1804 Hamilton portrayed many of the most important figures in Irish public life, such as John FitzGibbon, agent of the 1800 Union, Lord Edward Fitzgerald, the failed revolutionary, and Lord Cornwallis, the Lord Lieutenant. Hamilton’s likeness of Castlereagh was evidently popular, as four versions are known; at Mounstewart, the Palace of Westminster, Private Collection, and the present example. One of the versions was exhibited at Dublin in 1804.
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