Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Francis, 2nd Earl of Godolphin 1678 - 1766 1710c.

Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt. (1646-1723)

Portrait of Francis, 2nd Earl of Godolphin 1678 - 1766, Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt.
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
By descent in the family of the diarist John Evelyn (1620-1709) to John H.C.Evelyn of Wotton, Surrey (1876-1922) His estate sale, Christie's, 3 November 1972, Lot.233 as signed, inscribed and dated 1714 on reverse, bt.Douglas With Old Hall Gallery, Sussex, 1973 Collection of La Salle College, Philadelphia, U.S.A. until 1995
David Piper, Catalogue of Seventeenth-Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, Cambridge 1963, p. 143. J.Douglas Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller and the English Baroque Portrait, Oxford 1983, Cat.no.305, p. 107.
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Lord Godolphin was educated at Eton and King's College, Cambridge and entered Parliament in 1701 as Member for East Looe and then from 1702 for Helston, a seat he held until 1710, and later for Tregony. He was elevated to the upper house as second Earl of Godolphin on the death of his father, Sidney, 1st Earl of Godolphin in 1712. He was a Lord of the Bedchamber to George I in 1716 and Groom of the Stole and First Lord of the Bedchamber to George II. During the King's absences from Great Britain in 1723, 1725 and 1727 he acted as one of the Lords Justices of the United Kingdom. Finally as Lord Privy Seal in Walpole''s administration, he was in office from 14 May 1735 to 25 April 1740.

On the death of the sitter's mother, Margaret, six days after giving birth, John Evelyn (1620-1709), who had been her intimate acquaintance, transferred his friendship to her infant son and supervised the boy's education. Evelyn addressed an account of her life to their mutual friend, Lady Sylvius and refers to her beauty, talents and virtues, her devotion to charity and religion. Evelyn continued to take an interest in Francis's welfare throughout the remainder of his life and to whom he acted as a surrogate father. It is highly significant that this portrait belonged to the Evelyn and was presumably given by the sitter to John Evelyn (1681/2-1763), grandson of the diarist and a fellow of the Royal Society, who built a library at Wotton.

The Godolphin ancestral home was located near Helston and the 2nd Earl was actively involved in county matters. The pocket borough of Helston was under his patronage for many years, and sent his nominees to Parliament. He was High Steward of the Duchy of Cornwall, and rider master forester of Dartmoor from 1705-8. In 1763 he built Helston Church at an expense of 6,000/., and it was also his custom to pay the rates and taxes for all the electors in the borough.
In 1698 Godolphin married Lady Henrietta, eldest daughter of John, 1st Duke of Marlborough. She acquired considerable notoriety by her attachment to the dramatist, William Congreve. On the death of her father in 1722, she became Duchess of Marlborough and pre-deceased her husband by some 33 years.
As a member of the Kit-cat club, along with artist himself, he was painted by Kneller in about 1712, for the celebrated series of portraits, now belonging to the National Portrait Gallery, London. The sitter''s father and wife were also painted by the artist. This portrait which is signed by the artist in monogram is recorded as being dated on the reverse 1714. Like his Kit-cat portrait to which it is highly comparable, this portrait is an extremely fine example of the artist's work. Horace Walpole wrote of Kneller that where he offered one picture to fame, he sacrificed twenty to lucre and this work belongs convincingly to the former category.
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