Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Sir Robert Walpole 1676-1745 1730c.

Jonathan Richardson 

Portrait of Sir Robert Walpole 1676-1745, Jonathan Richardson
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
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One of the most significant figures in the history of British government, Walpole was born in Houghton, Norfolk in 1676 and was educated at Eton and King's College, Oxford.

In 1701, having already recommended himself to influential friends such as Viscount Townshend and Sarah, Countess of Marlborough, Walpole entered parliament. By 1704 he had already begun to gain a reputation both inside and outside the House of Commons, and Whig leaders begun to admit him into their counsel.

In the first government of Anne, his intimacy with the Marlborough family led to his appointment as Secretary at War (1708) and Treasurer of the Navy (1710). However, Marlborough''s interest at Court was on the wane and the Whigs were already being dismissed one by one. In the 1710 election the Whigs suffered an unparalled defeat, although Walpole was himself returned to parliament for Kings Lynn and became Leader of the Opposition.

However, in 1712 he was expelled under spurious charges of corruption as Secretary at War and committed to the Tower where he became regarded as a political martyr.

With the Whigs' return to power, Walpole became Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer (1715 - 1717 and 1721 - 1742), gaining a formidable reputation, the King declaring he could convert stones to gold. When Townshend and Cateret accompanied the King to Hanover in 1723 Walpole was left in undisputed power in England. He received the Order of the Bath in 1725 (the first commoner so honoured since 1660) and the following year became a Knight of the Garter.

However, by 1736 the parliamentary session revealed Walpole''s growing political weakness and following the death of Queen Caroline in 1737 his policies and person were increasingly attacked. In 1739 he reluctantly agreed to hostilities in Spain and was defeated in the House of Commons. A motion to remove him was placed before the King in 1741 charging him with making himself ''sole and prime minister'' and by 1742 pressure against him forced his resignation.

He was created 1st Earl of Orford in the same year and retured to Houghton. He married twice - in 1700 to Catherine Shorter and in 1738 to Maria Skerret. Jonathon Richardson was the leading native born painter of the first forty years of the 18th century. He was also a writer on art and literary topics. He was a pupil of Riley (1688 - 91) and his works are solid, good likenesses and unpretentious. With Jervas he was the busiest native born painter in rivalry with both Kneller and Dahl.

His writings - especially the Theory of Painting of 1715 - were immensely influential and fired Reynolds with the desire to become a painter. He retired from painting in 1740.
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