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THE PROPERTY OF A NOBLEMAN

Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A.
PORTRAIT OF THE HON. CHARLES JAMES FOX (1749–1806)
Estimate
150,000200,000
LOT SOLD. 218,750 GBP (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)
JUMP TO LOT
65

THE PROPERTY OF A NOBLEMAN

Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A.
PORTRAIT OF THE HON. CHARLES JAMES FOX (1749–1806)
Estimate
150,000200,000
LOT SOLD. 218,750 GBP (Hammer Price with Buyer's Premium)
JUMP TO LOT

Details & Cataloguing

Old Masters Evening Sale

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London

Sir Thomas Lawrence, P.R.A.
BRISTOL 1769 - 1830 LONDON
PORTRAIT OF THE HON. CHARLES JAMES FOX (1749–1806)

Provenance

Painted for the Hon. Edward Bouverie (1738–1810), Delapré Abbey, Northamptonshire, a close friend and political supporter of the sitter;

Aubrey Claud Davidson-Houston (1906–1995), 4 Chelsea Studios, London SW6 (according to a label on the back of the frame);

Private collection, England, acquired circa 1996.

Literature

K. Garlick, 'A catalogue of the paintings, drawings and pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence', in Walpole Society, vol. XXXIX, 1964, Appendix II, p. 270, no. 61 or 62;

K. Garlick, Sir Thomas Lawrence. A complete catalogue of the oil paintings, Oxford 1989, p. 190, under the entry for no. 307;

G. Ashton, Sir Thomas Lawrence, London 2006, p. 70, no. 19, reproduced in colour, p. 71.  

Catalogue Note

This newly discovered masterpiece is one of the most enduring images of the great statesman and liberal leader, Charles James Fox. One of two versions of this portrait by Lawrence, which are recorded in early accounts left by the artist at Coutts Bank, it was painted circa 1800, at the height of Fox’s notoriety and fame.

Charles James Fox was a titanic figure in the political world of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. A child prodigy, who entered Parliament as a minor at the age of just nineteen in 1768, he was one of the most gifted men of the age – highly intelligent, a talented orator and possessed of immense wit and charisma. As a staunch opponent of both the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, and King George III, he emerged from the turbulent politics of Georgian England as the leader of a parliamentary faction that came to be known as the Foxite Whigs and gave birth to a political movement that would long outlive the man himself. A confirmed Francophile, who was friends with Lafayette, Noailles, Tallyrand, Orléans and Lauzun; a champion of Irish Home Rule, whose favourite cousin was Lord Edward Fitzgerald; and a supporter of the American cause during the War of Independence, who corresponded regularly with Thomas Jefferson and knew Benjamin Franklin in Paris; in the 1770s he acquired the title ‘Man of the People’ for his stand against the Court faction which controlled the government; defended the cause of the French Revolution; and played a major role in the abolition of the slave trade. Central to Fox’s political philosophy was his view that ‘friendship was the only real happiness in the world’, and the politics of his supporters were often merely an extension of their friendship with the man himself: a carrying over of activities at Newmarket and the camaraderie of Brooks’s Club into Westminster.1

Depicted here in the buff waistcoat and blue coat – worn in homage to the uniform of Washington’s troops during the American War of Independence – that was the chosen dress of the Foxite Liberals; Lawrence’s portrait is probably the most enduring of all the images of the great statesman – with his heavy set, jowly features dominated by luxuriant bushy eyebrows (that earned him the nickname ‘Eyebrow’ among his fellow Whigs) and close cropped hair. It was this image that inspired the famous bust of Fox by Nollekens, which became a staple of any serious Whig house in the years after the great man’s death, examples of which include that commissioned for the Temple of Liberty at Woburn Abbey, in the Government Art Collection and in numerous private collections (fig. 1).

This painting is one of two closely related portraits of Fox by Lawrence – though with noticeable differences, particularly in the costume and the handling of the white stock – the other version of which is recorded as no. 307 in Garlick’s 1989 catalogue raisonné and was recently acquired by Brooks’s Club, in St. James’s, London. Both pictures are freely painted and characterised by loose, expressive brushwork that has a spontaneity and intimacy which is often lacking in the artist’s more formal depictions of the high aristocracy. In his 1964 catalogue of Lawrence’s work for the Walpole Society, Garlick reproduced a ‘list of pictures painted and painting by Thomas Lawrence Esqr, copied from a statement which Mr Lawrence corrected the 14th February 1806’ (Appendix II) from the ledgers at Coutts bank. This list records two portraits of Fox by the artist; one painted for a ‘Mr. Bouverie’(no. 61), presumably Edward Bouverie (1738-1810), who was a staunch supporter of Fox’s and ‘one of his dearest and most intimate friends’,2 and another for an unrecorded recipient (no. 62); both of which Lawrence was paid £31.10 for.  In addition ‘two studies for the Head of C. Fox on canvas’ and a portrait of Fox were included in lots 13 and 79 in Lawrence’s studio sale, held at Christie’s on the 18 June 1831. 

On 4 November 1800 Joseph Farington had Lawrence to dinner and recorded in his diary for that day that the artist had been at St Ann’s Hill, Fox’s villa near Chertsey in Surrey, to paint the great statesman’s portrait.3 Fox’s collection of pictures at St Ann’s Hill were inherited by his nephew, Henry, 3rd Baron Holland (1773–1840), and thence through his daughter to the Powys family, Barons Lilford. However a label on the back of the portrait at Brooks’s club states that the picture belonged to General Walpole, Under-Secretary to Fox when he was Foreign Secretary in 1806, and was given to Lord Holland in the 1830s. Either way the Brooks’s picture descended to Stephen Powys, 6th Baron Lilford (1869-1949), before being recoded with the dealer Sidney Sabin in 1964, and therefore – whether retained by Fox or given to Walpole – must be no. 62 in the Coutts list, whilst the present picture is presumably that listed as no. 61, given to Edward Bouverie. The second son of the 1st Viscount Folkestone, Bouverie served as Member of Parliament for Salisbury (1761–1771) and Northampton (1790–1810). A fellow habitué of Brooks’s Club and a prominent figure among the Foxite Whigs, he was a staunch supporter of Fox, voting with him consistently in Parliament, and his wife, Harriet Falkner – a renowned London beauty and socialite – was one of the coterie of political hostesses who helped return Fox to Parliament in the general election of 1784 – the most famous of which was Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. When not in the thick of political campaigning in London the Bouveries lived at Delapré Abbey, in Northamptonshire, which was later inherited by their eldest son, also called Edward Bouverie (1767–1858), a noted art collector and racehorse owner. Bouverie senior died in September 1810, leaving his affairs in surprising disorder, his many debts being ‘for the most part unknown to his family.’4

A miniature copy of this portrait in enamel on copper by Horace Hone, which is dated 1807, was on the London art market recently. The colour of the sitter's waistcoat, the handling of his cravat and the brass buttons on his coat all confirm that it is this portrait, and not the Brooks's Club version, that the miniature is based on.  

1. L. G. Mitchell, ‘Charles James Fox’, in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

2. J. Wilson, A Biographical Index of the Present House of Commons, 1806, p. 442.

3. K. Garlick and A. MacIntyre (eds.), The Diary of Joseph Farington, New Haven and London 1979, vol. IV, p. 1450.

4. R. Thorne, The History of Parliament: the House of Commons, 1790–1820, 1986.

Old Masters Evening Sale

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London