By inheritance from the sitter, who died without heirs, to his uncle, Edward Phelips Esq. (1725–1797) of Montacute, in Somerset;
By descent to Gerard Phelips Esq., at Montacute House;
By whom sold ('The Property of Gerard Phelips, Esq., removed from Montacute House, Somerset'), London, Christie’s, 29 November 1929, lot 45, to Vicars for £4,410 (reproduced in the catalogue);
Vice Admiral Lachlan Donald Ian Mackinnon (1882–1948), CB, CVO (according to a hand written label, verso);
With Vicars Bros., London, 1936;
Private collection, Dorset, until 1972.
Apollo, vol. XXIII, January 1936;
E.K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, London 1941, p. 51;
D. Mannings and M. Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds, A complete catalogue of his paintings, 2 vols, New Haven and London 2000, text vol., p. 350, no. 1329 (as untraced), plates vol., reproduced p. 305, pl. 629.
Napier lived at Crichel House, in Dorset, which had been re-built, following a fire in 1742, ‘in great splendour’ by William Bastard and Francis Cartwright for his uncle, Sir William Napier, 4th Bt. (c. 1696–1753), where this picture would have hung.1 The Crichel estate had been in the Napier family since the reign of James I and the original Jacobean house had been built by Sir Nathaniel Napier (d. 1635), High Sherriff and Member of Parliament for Dorset. Upon the 6th Baronet’s death, without an heir, Crichel passed to his cousin, Humphrey Sturt, the son of his father’s sister, Diana Napier and her husband, another Humphrey Sturt, of nearby Horton. An amateur architect himself, Sturt extensively remodelled the house, engaging the young James Wyatt to design the interiors, such that it was described in 1774 as being ‘so immensely enlarged that it has the appearance of a mansion of a prince, more than that of a country gentleman’.2
The majority of Napier’s estates, however, passed to his maternal uncle, Edward Phelips (1725–1797), who had inherited Montacute House in neighbouring Somerset from his grandfather, Sir Edward Phelips (1638–1699). Edward recorded the inheritance in his autobiography under 1765: 'January 25 died at Critchil [sic] my much lamented poor nephew Sir Gerrard Napier, bart... I found by his will he had been so good to leave me all his estate in Somerset, which turned out to be Shepton Montacute, Cucklington, Stoke [Trister] and Bayford, North Cheriton, Wooleston [in Stogursey], Cannington, and some fields in Lyng and Bridgwater'.3 The manors of Shepton Montague, Cucklington, Stoke Trister and Bayford had come into the Napier family from Sir Hugh Wyndham of Silton (1602–1684), one of whose daughters had married Sir Nathaniel Napier, 2nd Bt. (1636–1709), great-grandfather of Sir Gerard. Along with these extensive estates this painting, together with a number of other Napier family portraits, also went to Napier’s uncle at Montacute House, where it hung until the late 1920s, when the house was sold and the collection dispersed at auction.
Painted wearing the uniform of a Lieutenant in the Dorsetshire militia, Napier sat to Reynolds in November and early December 1762, with four appointments and a payment of 10 guineas recorded in the artist’s Ledger. His wife, Elizabeth, Lady Napier, also sat on those four days for a pendant portrait, apparently in the guise of the goddess Diana (untraced). A posthumous replica of the present portrait, painted in 1768, three years after the sitter’s death, which is almost identical but without the tricorn hat and with a different landscape background, is in a private collection (see Mannings 2000, no. 1330). This second version was also in the Christie’s 1929 Phelips of Montacute sale, lot 46, where it sold for £651.
In David Mannings’ catalogue raisonné of Joshua Reynolds’ paintings, published in 2000, this picture is listed as untraced and the compiler refers to a reference in Ellis Waterhouse’s notes, held at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, which state that this painting was stolen in May 1972 ‘from a collector’s home in a village near Sherborne, Dorset’ (see Mannings 2000, p. 350). All issues of legal ownership have now been resolved and the consignor of this painting has full legal title to the painting. A certificate of legal title is available upon request from the department.
1. Country Life, 18 January 1908, p. 94.
2. John Hutchins, The History and Antiquities of the County of Dorset, 1774.
3. Phelips Mss, The National Archives, DD\PH 224/114.
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