Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Samuel Sandys, first Baron Sandys of Ombersley (1695–1770) 1720

Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt. (1646-1723)

Portrait of Samuel Sandys, first Baron Sandys of Ombersley (1695–1770), Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt.
Oil on canvas
18th Century
50 x 40 inches, 127 x 102 cm
Probably by family descent to the Barons Northwick, Northwick Park Collection; By descent to Captain E. G. Spencer-Churchill MC.; His sale, Christies 25th June 1965; Bt. Masterson 140 guineas; American Private Collection.
A Catalogue of the Pictures & Works of Art at Northwick Park, (1864), Catalogue no. 290 Catalogue of the Pictures at Northwick Park, compiled by Tancred Borenius (1921), Catalogue no. 333 Sir Godfrey Kneller, J. Douglas Stewart (Oxford, 19
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Lord Sandys was a leading politician of the mid eighteenth century, and was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1742. This is the only known portrait of him. The bravura pose, vibrant colouring and youthful characterisation show why Sir Godfrey Kneller dominated portrait painting in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. The condition of this picture (it has never been relined) further allows us to see why Kneller’s fresh and rapid style was so popular. Immediately noticeable is the baroque use colour in Sandy’s dress, which has helped to show the sitter – “a tall thin young gentleman” - in a dynamic yet relaxed pose, along with the exquisitely drawn face and hands. However, the unusual absence a bright landscape background – often used by Kneller to enliven sitters constrained by the formalities of etiquette and fashion – here allows the viewer to focus on Sandy’s character and personality. This is obviously a portrait of an intellectual, a young man of visibly impatient ambition who has just embarked on his political career.

Sandys was first entered Parliament in 1718, as MP for Worcester. Like any ambitious young MP, he quickly declared himself a supporter of the giant of English politics, the first Prime Minister Robert Walpole. However, any early expectations of government office were dashed by the mid 1720s, and Sandys thus took his place amongst a small group of discontented backbench Whigs, and acted for the next two Parliaments as deputy to the Whig opposition leader William Pulteney. Sandys’ was thus noted by leading figures such as Lord Chesterfield as one of “those men with long cravats [seen in this portrait]” who sought nothing but office. And yet, throughout his backbench years Sandys made apparently sincere efforts to highlight the brazen bribery and corruption of a political system which, in extremis, operated solely for the financial benefit of placemen and office holders.

Sandys’ industry and intellect guaranteed him a leading post when Walpole’s marathon run as Prime Minister came to an end in 1742, and he became Chancellor of the Exchequer under the new Premier, Spencer Compton. It was, however, a post he held for just under two years, and was his only major office. The champion of open politics in opposition suddenly found himself an advocate of the status quo in government, and Sandys did his best to sabotage a series of measures aimed at remedying the corrupt political system. He was thus easily sidelined when Henry Pelham took over the Premiership in 1743. Sandys accepted a peerage, and the minor post of cofferer of the household. Though he continued to play an active part in politics, becoming in 1756 speaker of the House of Lords and First Lord of Trade in 1761, he was never again in the front rank of English statesman. Sandys died in 1770 after his chaise overturned on Highgate Hill.
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