PROPERTY OF THE GREENTREE FOUNDATION FROM THE COLLECTION OF MR AND MRS JOHN HAY WHITNEY
Inscribed and numbered with the identity of the sitters
Sir William Bass (1879-1952), Bt., Byrkley Lodge, Staffordshire;
Ehrich Gallery, New York;
Mrs Payne Whitney, New York, by whom acquired in 1920;
By descent to Mr and Mrs John Hay Whitney
Tate Gallery, The John Hay Whitney Collection, 1960-61, no. 68 (as Zoffany)
Towner Gallery Eastbourne and Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, John Hamilton Mortimer, A.R.A., July-October 1968, no.22
Lady Victoria Manners and G.C.Williamson, John Zoffany, R.A., 1920, pp.156 and 244;
J.Sunderland, ‘John Hamilton Mortimer: His Life and Works’, Walpole Society, Vol.LII, 1988, pp.126-7, no.19, illus fig.33
Mortimer’s beautifully composed conversation piece was painted in c.1767-8. It shows the young Edmund 7th Earl of Cork with a group of friends dressed for hunting. The Earl wears a hunting cap and holds a crop whilst gesturing towards one of the three finely drawn hounds, whilst his friends hold hats and crops. The confidence with which the young artist uses the gestures and stance of the figures to suggest a conversation is evidence of how great was his mastery of the art of the conversation piece by the late 1760’s, and how much he had learnt from his friend Johann Zoffany.
The identity of the sitters in the picture comes from an early inscription. As John Sunderland has pointed out, there has been confusion, caused by reading the inscription from left to right. In fact the identification is clearly as follows: Edmund, 7th Earl of Cork on the far right, Mr Bingham standing with his arm around his companion, the Reverend Charles Digby, Colonel Cox seated on the bench with his hand on the head of a hound and the Reverend Mr Hume on the far left leaning over the bench. Only two of the five sitters can be identified further with certainty. Edmund Boyle (1742-1798) who succeeded his brother Hamilton as 7th Earl of Cork in 1764, was the son of John Boyle 5th Earl of Cork and his wife Margaret daughter of John Hamilton of Celendon. Born at Marston House near Frome in Somerset, he was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford (matriculating in 1763). He was married twice - firstly to Anne, daughter of Kelland Courtney of Painsford, and secondly to Mary, daughter of John Monckton, 1st Viscount Galway. He had a reputation for loose living - according to Sir Herbert Croft in The Abbey of Kilkhampton he was "devoted to the most wretched voluptuousness". Standing in the centre of the composition with his face turned away from the Earl is Charles Digby (1743-1810), the son of Edmund Digby, M.P. for Warwick and his wife Charlotte, daughter of Sir Stephen Fox, and grandson of William 5th Baron Digby. In 1775 he married Priscilla Mellier. Mortimer clearly knew the Digby family well as Charles Digby is also included in another conversation piece, formerly in the Hutchinson Collection and now in the Wimborne Collection, which also includes Henry 2nd Earl of Ilchester (whose sister Lucy married Colonel Stephen Digby). It is said to have been painted at Sherborne Park in Dorset, the Digby seat.
An examination of the records of eighteenth century Oxford alumni suggests a likely link between the five companions. As mentioned above the Earl of Cork was educated at Christ Church, Oxford. The records also show that Charles Digby was at Christ Church (matriculated in 1761). Mortimer seems therefore to have painted five Oxford friends rather as he did when in the early 1760's he painted Richard Roundell with three Oxford undergraduates. Further research may lead to further information about Lord Cork's remaining friends. Mr Bingham is likely to be Richard, the eldest son of Richard Bingham of Melcombe Bingham and his wife Philadelphia, daughter of John Pottenger. As he was born in 1741 he would be an almost exact contemporary of Lord Cork (who was born in 1741) and of Charles Digby (who was born in 1743).
The painting was formerly in the collection of Sir William Bass Bt. (1879-1952) of Byrkley Lodge, Burton-on-Trent in Staffordshire. He was a member of the celebrated brewing family, whose fortunes were made by the founder of the brewery, William Bass (1717-1787). Sir William's uncle, Sir Michael Bass, was created Baron Burton in 1886 and had a celebrated collection of pictures, including important full length portraits by Gainsborough.
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