Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Elizabeth Pelham, first wife of Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend, c.1698 

Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt. (1646-1723)

Portrait of Elizabeth Pelham, first wife of Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend, c.1698, Sir Godfrey Kneller Bt.
Oil and Canvas
17th Century
94 7/8 x 58 ¼ in (241 x 148 cm)
Commissioned from the artist by Charles 2nd Viscount Townshend; with the family until 1904 Sold by Christies 1904 to Colnaghi Sold by Christies 1947 for Lady Alice Townshend to Wiggins Sold by Christie’s 1991 for Anonymous owner to present owner
J. D. Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller and the English Baroque Portrait, Oxford 1983, no. 762, p. 134; A. Wilton, The Swagger Portrait: Grand Manner Portraiture in Britain from van Dyck to Augustus John 1630-1930, exhibition catalogue, London 1992, no. 18, pp. 98-9, reproduced.
London, Tate Gallery, The Swagger Portrait, 14 October 1992 - 10 January 1993, no. 18
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Elizabeth Pelham (1681-1711) was the only surviving daughter of Sir Thomas Pelham, later 1st Lord Pelham of Laughton by his first wife Elizabeth Jones, daughter of Sir William Jones, Attorney General to King Charles II. In July 1698, Elizabeth Pelham married Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend of Raynham Norfolk. Charles, eldest son of Sir Horatio Townshend later Baron Townshend ( 1661) and Viscount Townshend (1682). After attending Eton College and Kings College Cambridge, Charles joined the peerage in December 1687. After moving away from supporting the Tories, Charles became actively involved in the Whig party, leading to his appointment of Captain of the Yeoman of the Guard having previously been summoned to the Privy Council despite being left without a post under Queen Anne. In April 1706 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society, and having quickly won favour with the new king, George I, Townshend was appointed Secretary of State for the Northern Department. He remained in office under George II despite the king’s dislike of Townshend, helping forge the League of Hanover until his retirement in May of 1730 after disagreements with Walpole, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Townshend’s retirement thus made possible the Anglo-Austrian alliance which he had been set against.

Apart from parliamentary achievements, Townshend was a pioneering agriculturist resulting in him being called ‘Turnip Townshend’. Although often a figure of fun, Townshend’s agricultural achievements were important introducing Clover and Turnip into the crop rotations.
Elizabeth had five surviving children with Charles, four boys and one girl, the eldest of which, Charles Townshend succeeded his father on his death in 1738. Elizabeth and Charles shared a close relationship during their 13 year marriage, the celebration for which this painting may have been commissioned.

Sir Godfrey Kneller, born in Lubeck Germany, studied painting under Ferdinand Bol and probably Rembrandt painting nobility in Venice and Rome before settling in England in 1676. Here he became a court artist after an introduction to the Duke of Monmouth, becoming well regarded for his portraiture. In 1684-85 Kneller was in France painting Louis XIV for Charles, before becoming the principle painter for Mary and William in 1688. Knighted in 1692 and in 1700 Kneller was created a Knight of the Holy Emperor. This painting is in the style of Kneller’s set of Beauties painted for Mary II now in the Royal collection at Hampton Court.
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