Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of the Right Hon George Canning PM (1770-1827) 1828

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA (1769-1830)

Portrait of the Right Hon George Canning PM (1770-1827), Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA
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Oil on canvas
19th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
 
Provenance:
Commissioned 1827 by John William Ward, Earl of Dudley (1781-1833); By inheritance to William Humble Ward, 10th Lord Ward (1755-1835), 2nd cousin to the late Lord Dudley; William Ward, 11th Lord Ward, created (1860) Earl of Dudley (1817-1885); By gift 1859 to Edward John Littleton 1st Lord Hatherton (1791-1863); By descent to the 5th Lord Hatherton; Lord Hatherton''s sale, Christie''s 6th November 1953 (lot 19); Foster Cannon Books, Washington D.C. Private Collection, U.S.A.
Literature:
Regency Portraits by Richard Walker National Portrait Gallery, London,1985 Vol II p93 (as painted for Lord Dudley) Correspondence between the Earl of Dudley and Sir Thomas Lawrence: Thomas Lawrence (considered ad certam addressed to Lord Dudley) December 8th 1827, Archive of the National Portrait Gallery, London; Lord Dudley to Thomas Lawrence, July 4th 1828, Library of the Royal Academy London; Lord Dudley to Thomas Lawrence, December 28th 1828, Library of the Royal Academy London; Correspondance between Kenneth Garlick and owner (see attached)
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Lawrence's celebrated characterisation of the Prime Minister and statesman, George Canning, was famed in its day as amongst the artist''s most accomplished achievements. Following, as it did, the comparatively prosaic statesman portraits of the previous three generations the resultant image became the first successful expression of radical political realism in British portrait painting.

Kenneth Garlick first pointed out the probable link between this portrait and the correspondence of John Ward Earl of Dudley (see letter attached). This was recently confirmed by the transcription of a period inscription from the original stretcher. The correspondence suggests a profound admiration on the part of the Earl for Canning. They were close personal friend and like Canning, at the beginning of his career Ward was an adherent of Pitt. In 1804, however, he moved with Lord Grenville to the side of Fox. By 1806 he was a firm supporter of Canning, which allegiance set the tone for the rest of his political career.
Canning fostered Ward's talents, both in the Commons and then, when in 1823, he inherited his father''s title of Viscount Dudley and Ward, in the Upper House. Ward was appointed Foreign Secretary by Canning in 1827, and in the same year was sworn to the Privy Council and created Earl of Dudley of Dudley Castle. He was so closely associated with Canning, that although he continued in office under the Duke of Wellington at the beginning of 1828, he soon resigned with the rest of the Canning faction. Unlike Palmerston who was of the same persuasion he sought no further office.

The correspondence also illustrates a mutual esteem between Dudley and Lawrence together with a particular interest taken by Lawrence in the commission. In a letter of December 1828 (see Literature above) from Lawrence to My Lord (assumed to be Lord Dudley), Lawrence asked Dudley to receive the portrait of Canning as a testimony of that high esteem which I have now felt towards you for many years and which has been increased, by many acts of friendship. Lawrence then proceeds to explain to Dudley how the picture should only be varnished by the artist and hung with light emanating from the left to show the inimitable eyes to best advantage. Dudley's response on finally receiving the picture is greatly admiring. In his letter to Lawrence of July the following year he writes ...you have furnished me with what is at once so excellent in art and so precious to me from resemblance...there is no one of them (i.e. other portraits of Canning) ... that reminds me more strongly of the original (i.e. Canning himself).

The full length portrait of Canning to which this relates, and which may well have inspired Dudley's desire to own such a political icon, was commissioned by George IV and paid for in 1828. It shows Canning standing in the chamber of the old Palace of Westminster. There is another version at Harewood House. This is the only recorded autograph variant of this type and although it greatly concentrates the pictorial image, like the Royal Collection version it too alludes to parliament but with a simple streak of panelling in the left-hand background. This sharper format and briefer background reference has the effect of accentuating the face and arms and further projecting the sitter's adversarial persona which so appealed to Canning's earliest biographer, Samuel Banford: Canning with his smooth, bare and capacious forehead, sat there (House of Commons), a spirit beaming in his looks like that of a leopard waiting to spring upon its prey.

Christopher Lloyd, Surveyor of The Queen''s Pictures, has recently completed research into Lawrence's work for George IV and the Waterloo Chamber. From a recent post cleaning viewing of the Dudley portrait he compares it to the very best of Lawrence's late portraits, drawing particular comparison to the artist's fluid rendition of Canning's close friend, William Cavendish, 6th Duke of Devonshire (Royal Collection Cat. No. 895).

By gift this portrait passed to a further disciple of Canning's political ideas, since the first Lord Hatherton (1791-1863), who was presented with the portrait by Lord Dudley's heir, entered the House of Commons in 1816 as a supporter of Canning's administration, and in matters such as Catholic Emancipation, continued to follow Canningite doctrine for the whole of his political career.

After a period under the influence of Fox, George Canning met the Tory, William Pitt. The two men became friends and in 1793 Pitt helped Canning become MP for the rotten borough of Newtown in the House of Commons. In 1796 William Pitt appointed Canning as secretary of state for Foreign Affairs. This was the first of a series of posts held under Pitt that included Commissioner of the Board of Control (1799 - 1800), Paymaster-General (1800 - 1801) and Treasurer of the Navy (1801). After Pitt resigned in 1801, Canning joined the opposition to Henry Addington''s government. Over the next few years Henry Addington suffered from Canning''s parliamentary attacks. Canning was especially critical of Addington's refusal to accept Catholic Emancipation.

In May 1804 William Pitt returned to power and Canning was once again given the post of treasurer of the navy. After Pitt's death in 1806, Canning became foreign minister in the government of the Duke of Portland. Canning played an important role in planning the war against France. The daring seizure of the Danish Fleet by Lord Cathcart was conceived by Canning. This severely weakened Napoleon''s forces and was a contributing factor to his eventual defeat. Canning promised to send more troops to the Duke of Wellington who was fighting in Portugal, and was furious when he discovered that the secretary of war, Lord Castlereagh, sent the troops to Holland instead. A bitter argument took place and eventually Castlereagh challenged Canning to a duel. The two statesmen met on Putney Heath on 21st September 1809, where the men missed with their first shots, though eventually Castlereagh wounded Canning in the thigh.

Canning left government and for the next few years concentrated on writing. He contributed to the Anti-Jacobin Review and with Sir Walter Scott helped to establish the Quarterly Review. Canning contributed several articles on political subjects including the need for full political and religious rights for Catholics. However, Canning was a strong opponent of any increase in the franchise. In 1812 Canning became MP for Liverpool. The new Prime Minister, Lord Liverpool invited Canning to become foreign minister. Canning refused office because he was unwilling to serve in the same government as Castlereagh. Liverpool approached Canning on several occasions to join his government and eventually he changed his mind and in 1816 became President of the Board of Control. After Castlereagh committed suicide in 1822, Canning replaced him as foreign minister. George Canning held the post of foreign minister for the next five years.

When Lord Liverpool resigned in 1827 George IV interviewed Robert Peel, the Duke of Wellington and George Canning for the post of Prime Minister. When the king appointed Canning, Wellington, Peel and several other leading Tories resigned from the government. Canning was forced to rely on the support of the Whigs to hold on to power. Those Whigs who accepted government posts had to promise not to raise the issue of parliamentary reform.

Canning's first concern was to tackle the problem of the Corn Laws. On 1st March 1827, Canning introduced the proposal that foreign wheat should be admitted at a 20s. duty when the price had fallen to 60s. This new sliding scale enabled the duty to fall as the price rose, and to rise as the price fell. The Duke of Wellington led the fight against this measure and although passed by the House of Commons, it was defeated in the House of Lords.
Even before being appointed Prime Minister, George Canning''s health was in decline. His illness was attributed to a severe chill sustained at the night-time funeral of the Duke of York, in which he with other Cabinet members was kept standing on cold flagstones for above two hours, some warding off the worst effects of the cold by standing on their cocked hats. The strain of office made matters worse and on 29th July he informed George IV that he was seriously ill. Canning was taken to the home of the Duke of Devonshire and on 8th August 1827 - his illness having been made public some three days previously - he died in the same room in which, twenty-one years before, his first political influence, Charles James Fox, had died.
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