Lot 17
  • 17

Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A.

150,000 - 250,000 GBP
185,000 GBP
bidding is closed


  • Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A.
  • Portrait of William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire (1748–1811)
  • oil on canvas, in a painted oval
  • 76 by 63.5 cm.; 30 by 25 in.


Possibly given by the sitter's wife Lady Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757–1806) to her close friend and fellow political hostess Frances Anne, Lady Crewe (1748–1818);
Possibly by descent to her son, John Crewe, 2nd Baron Crewe (1772–1835);
His son, Hungerford Crewe, 3rd Baron Crewe (1812–94);
By inheritance to his nephew, Robert Crewe-Milnes, 1st Marquess of Crewe (1858–1945);
Thence by descent.


London, British Institution, 1866, no. 143 (lent by Lord Crewe);
London, South Kensington, Second Special Exhibition of National Portraits, 1867, no. 474 (lent by Lord Crewe);
London, 25 Park Lane, 1931, no. 32;
Manchester, City Art Gallery, British Art Exhibition, 1934;
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of British Art c.1000–1860; 1934, no. 288.


Manuscript Catalogue of Pictures at West Horsley, 4 vols, n.d., vol. I, p. 19 (listed as Crewe Collection);
A. Graves and W. V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 4 vols, London 1899–1901, vol. I, p. 247;
E. K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, London 1941, p. 58, reproduced pl. 118(B);
D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, New Haven and London 2000, text vol., p. 126, no. 336, plates vol., reproduced p. 380, fig. 891.

Catalogue Note

Painted over several months in 1766–67, when the sitter was in his late teens, this fine portrait depicts the young Duke on the cusp of manhood, shortly before he set off on his Grand Tour. His assured gaze and calm patrician bearing belie his lack of years, and display the youthful confidence of one who was possibly the foremost aristocrat of his generation. Beautifully painted, and elegantly restrained, the painting is a masterful portrayal of Georgian gentility, and the epitome of mid-eighteenth-century refinement.    

The 5th Duke of Devonshire was the eldest of four children of William Cavendish, 4th Duke of Devonshire (1720–64), and his wife Charlotte Elizabeth Boyle, Baroness Clifford (1731–54), daughter and heiress of the ‘Architect Earl’, Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington (1694–1753). His parents both died when he was still a boy and, inheriting the Duchy, together with a vast inheritance which included Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall in Derbyshire, Londesborough House and Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, Lismore Castle in Co. Waterford, Chiswick House in Middlesex, and Devonshire House and Burlington House in Piccadilly, at such a young age the Duke was brought up by his three bachelor uncles, Lords Frederick, George and John Cavendish. In 1767, just a few months after this portrait was completed, he set off for the Continent to complete his education. In April 1768 he reached Italy, visiting Turin, Venice, Florence, Naples and Rome, where he sat to Batoni for his portrait (Devonshire Collection, Chatsworth). Back in England, in 1774, Devonshire married the gregarious Lady Georgiana Spencer, eldest daughter of John, 1st Earl Spencer (1734–83). Whilst the marriage united the scions of two of the leading Whig families in England, Georgiana and the Duke were ill-matched as a couple. Notoriously lethargic and reserved, though he clearly had an astute mind, the Duke possessed a greater affection for dogs than for people. His wife, on the other hand, who was a famous beauty, a leader of fashionable style, and an energetic political hostess and staunch campaigner for the Fox administration, became one of the most celebrated female figures of her generation. Both had numerous affairs, and the curious menage à trois in which they lived with Lady Elizabeth Foster, who was both the Duke’s principal mistress and the Duchess’s closest friend, scandalised and enthralled Georgian England in equal measure.  

In contrast to his wife’s political activism the 5th Duke possessed no great political ambition, and though Devonshire House became the centre of the Whig establishment throughout the 1790s, he refused a cabinet office on three occasions. He took his hereditary duties seriously, however, and served as Lord High Treasurer of Ireland and Governor of Cork from 1766 to 1793, Lord Lieutenant of Derbyshire from 1782 until his death, and in 1778 he served as Colonel of the Derbyshire Militia when Britain declared war with France. In spite of their differences Georgiana bore him three children: Georgiana (1783–1858), who married George Howard, 6th Earl of Carlisle; Harriet (1785–1862), who married Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Earl Granville; and William George Spencer Cavendish, future 6th Duke of Devonshire (1790–1858), the famous collector and patron of the arts known as the ‘Bachelor Duke’ (see lot x). By his mistress, Lady Elizabeth Foster, whom he later married as his second wife in 1809, he also had two illegitimate children: Caroline St Jules (1785–1862), who married the politician and writer Hon. George Lamb; and Admiral Sir Augustus William James Clifford, 1st Bt. (1788–1877).

Appointments are recorded in Reynolds' Pocket Book for this portrait in October and November 1766. Further appointments are also recorded between January and April 1767, and a payment of £35 is recorded in the Leger on 12 May 1767. The early provenance of the picture is, as yet, unsubstantiated, and it is first recorded in the collection of Hungerford Crewe, 3rd Baron Crewe, who lent the painting to the British Institution in 1866. Lord Crewe’s grandmother, Frances, Lady Crewe (1748–1818), wife of the 1st Bt., was a close friend of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, and a fellow political hostess, leader of fashion, and renowned beauty. As with Devonshire House, Crewe Hall in Cheshire, as well as her villa in Hampstead, became a centre for the Foxite Whig élite. Fox himself, Burke, Sheridan, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Canning, Charles Burney and Hester Thrale were all frequent visitors, and it seems likely that this portrait may have been a gift from one society hostess to another. Like the Devonshires, the Crewes were friends, as well as clients, of the artists they patronised, which included both Reynolds and Gainsborough. The 1st Baron and his wife commissioned no less than eight portraits of themselves and their family from the former, including the celebrated portrait of their son known as Master Crewe as Henry VIII (Private Collection, on loan to Tate Britain, London), and they owned several subject pictures by the artist as well, including A Captain of Banditti (Private Collection), exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1772, and a copy of Rembrandt's The Tribute Money (untraced), as well as a Self Portrait of the artist (see previous lot). Upon the 3rd Baron’s death in 1894 this picture was inherited, along with the contents of Crewe Hall, by his nephew, Robert Crewe-Milnes, Baron Houghton, later 1st Marquess of Crewe, who was the son of his sister, Annabel Hungerford Crewe and her husband Richard Monckton Milnes, 1st Baron Houghton (1809–85).