Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of King George II 1683 - 1760 1748

John Shackleton 

Portrait of King George II 1683 - 1760, John Shackleton
Oil on canvas
18th Century
86 x 50 inches 218.4 x 127 inches
Painted in 1748 for John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich (1718-92), Minister Plenipotentiary to George II; By family decent at Hinchingbrooke, Huntingdonshire to George Charles, 9th Earl of Sandwich (1874-1962); His sale, Sotheby's, 4 December 1957, Lot. 189; Collection of E.J.de Tracy Kelly Esq., Bicester, Oxon. until 1995
Paget Toynbee, ed., Horace Walpole's Journals of Visits to Country Seats, &c., The Walpole Society, Vol.XVI (1928), p.50. Oliver Millar, Tudor, Stuart and early Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, 1963, under No.567, p.1
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This full-length portrait of George II ranks amongst the finest images of the sitter. Its significance lies in the fact that it is not only a fully documented royal commission, but the first in a series of portraits of the King painted by his official portrait painter.

According to the art-historian George Vertue (1683-1756), George II - who had little passion for art or literature - disliked having his portrait taken and refused to sit to many of the leading artists of the day. As a consequence, few artists had life-sittings with the King, and many of the poor-quality images that were produced in England during his reign derived from a prototype by Sir Godfrey Kneller of 1716, painted when the sitter was Prince of Wales. -1 Even William Kent, the architect and painter who succeeded Charles Jervas as the King's painter was refused a sitting with the monarch. 2

These earlier portraits were not well received at Court. Vertue tells us that Jervas, .. .has had no success in painting their Majesties pictures & from thence he lost much favour & Interest at Court. 3 Other influential artists such as Hudson, Highmore and Reynolds were unable to obtain sittings with the King and consequently painted portraits based on other images. One of the few painter''s who seems to have had direct access to the King was John Shackleton who held the position of Prinicipal Painter in Ordinary under two monarchs and for a period of some nineteen years. 4
Although little is known about his early career Shackleton had, by 1750, painted portraits of several influential sitters, including John, 2nd Duke of Montagu (1690-1749) and the Prime Minister, Henry Pelham (1695-1754). On 7 March 1749 he was sworn into the place and quality of Principal Painter in Ordinary to his Majesty in the room of Wm. Kent Esq. deceased. 5 Lord Hertford, who became Lord Chancellor in 1766 was later to claim that this appointment was facilitated through the influence of the Devonshire family. However, it is more likely that it was through personal contact with the then Lord Chamberlain, Charles Fitzroy, 2nd Duke of Grafton (1683-1757) whose portrait by Shackleton was noted at Ragley Hall by Musgrave in 1797. 6
The position of court painter to the King was one of considerable prestige and status having previously been occupied by artists such as Van Dyck, Lely and Kneller. It also by 1749 carried an annual salary of some 200 and Shackleton was paid about 55 for each portrait of the King that he was instructed to paint. These commissions were typically destined for ambassadors, colonial governors and other state dignitaries and representatives.

Our picture was the first portrait of George II to be executed by Shackleton after his appointment as Principal Painter in Ordinary to the King. Numerous pentiments throughout the composition further indicate its prime status. 7 On 24 April 1748 a Warrant was issued by the Lord Chamberlain''s Office for a portrait of the King to be painted for the Earl of Sandwich, Minister Plenipotentiary from His Majesty to the Conference held at Aix-la-Chapelle. 8

John Montagu succeeded his grandfather Edward, 3rd Earl of Sandwich in the peerage at the age of eleven. During his youth he undertook a protracted tour of the Mediterranean, spending some time in France. On his return to England he was appointed a lord commissioner of the admiralty under the Duke of Bedford. In August 1745 he was sent on a mission to Holland and he was appointed a colonel in the army and aide-de-campe to Bedford. In July 1746, while still only in his late twenties, he was nominated plenipotentiary (an ambassador with full or discretionary powers from the sovereign) at the conferences at Breda, and he continued to represent the interests of England in the negotiations of 1747, and at the conclusion of the Treaty in 1748 at Aix-la-Chapelle. Despite his relative inexperience Sandwich agreed satisfactory terms with the French plenipotentiary, the Count de Saint-Sever in.
In recognition and gratitude for his ambassadorial service, the Lord Chamberlain instructed Shackleton to paint a full-length portrait of the King for Sandwich. Between 1748 and 1760 some twenty-one Warrants were issued by the Lord Chamberlain''s Office for whole-length portraits of His Majesty to be executed by his Principal Painter, for which an average a fee of 55. / 15s. / 6d was paid.

Of these portraits, signed and dated versions are at Wentworth Woodhouse (1750), the Scottish National Portrait Gallery (1755), and others are at Newby, the Foundling Hospital (1758), the Fishmongers Hall (presented in 1765), the British Museum (painted for the Trustees in 1762) and the Town Hall at Huntingdon. 9

Our portrait was recorded by Horace Walpole on May 30 1763 at the Earl of Sandwich's country seat, Hinchingbrooke in Huntingdonshire, in the best eating room ... George 2d by Shackleton ... all whole lengths. 10 The portrait then passed by descent through the Earls of Sandwich at Hinchingbrooke to the 9th Earl, who sold the picture at Sotheby''s in 1957.

Two portraits by Kneller, both signed and dated 1716 are in the Royal Collection: Oliver Millar, Tudor, Stuart and early Georgian Portraits, 1963, Nos.344 + 344.
Vertue Note Books, Volume III, The Walpole Society, Vol.XXII (1934), p. 140.
A drawing of uncertain status (probably a studio model) in a private collection of George II''s head is inscribed, J.Shakleton ad vivuum delt. (photograph in the National Portrait Gallery, Heinz archive).
Lord Chamberlain''s Records of Appointments (P.R.O. LC.3 / 65, p.232).
British Museum, Add MS 6391, 217 f.
These are particularly visible in the folds of the drapery.
Public Records Office, London (P.R.O. LC.5 / 161, p.291).
J.R.Fawcett Thompson, The elusive Mr.Shackleton, The Connoisseur, CLXV, p.239.
Paget Toynbee, ed., Horace Walpole''s Journals of Visits to Country Seats, &c., The Walpole Society, Vol.XVI (1928), pp.49-50.
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