SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS, P.R.A.
Plympton, Devon 1723 - 1792 London
Portrait of Sir Robert Palk (1717–98), Governor of Madras
oil on canvas
76.2 x 63.5 cm.; 30 x 25 in.
By descent from the sitter to his son Sir Lawrence Palk, 2nd Bt. (1766–1813), at Haldon House, Devon;
By descent to his second son, Robert John Malet Palk (1794–1870);
By descent to his son, Wilmot Henry Palk (1836–76);
By inheritance to his widow, Elizabeth Alexandrina Grieg Palk;
By whose Executors sold (‘The Property of the late Mrs E.A.G. Palk, by direction of the Administrator’), London, Robinson & Fisher, 13 March 1913, lot 102, for 200 Guineas to Tooth;
With Arthur Tooth & Sons, London;
By whom sold in 1913 to T. J. Blakeslee, New York, for $2,050;
His sale, New York, American Art Association, 22 April 1915, lot 131;
Anonymous sale, New York, American Art Association, 23–24 January 1924, lot 177 to Vose;
With Robert G. Vose Gallery, Boston;
By whom sold to Willoughby H. Stuart, Jnr., 12 Reservoir Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 27 October 1926, for $2,250;
By descent to his son, Harborne W. Stuart (1921–78);
Thence by descent until acquired by the present owner.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, on loan 13 June – 10 October 1929 (lent by the Stuart family);
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, on loan 13 June – 2 October 1968 (lent by the Stuart family).
A. Graves and W.V. Cronin, A history of the works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, London 1899, vol. II, p. 719;
D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds. A complete catalogue of his paintings, New Haven and London 2000, text vol., p. 361, cat. no. 1379 (as untraced);
I. Fraser, The Palk Family of Haldon House and Torquay, Newton Abbot 2015, p. 32.
The son of a yeoman family from Devon, the sitter was educated at Ashburton Grammar School before attending Wadham College, Oxford, from which he graduated in 1739. He took Deacon’s orders later that year at Exeter Cathedral, before moving to London in 1741, where he attracted the attention of Sir Robert Walpole. Under Walpole’s patronage he was appointed naval chaplain to Admiral Edward Boscawen, whom he accompanied to India, arriving in Madras in 1748. In 1761 Palk renounced his clerical duties and joined the Council of the East India Company. The same year he married Anne Vansittart, the sister of Henry Vanisttart, Governor of Bengal and rose rapidly within the company, being closely acquainted with both Major-Generals Stringer Lawrence and Robert Clive, successive Commanders-in-Chief of British occupied India. In 1763 he was appointed Governor of Madras, a position he held until 1767 when he returned to England and was elected to Parliament. In 1770 he bought the Haldon estate, near Exeter in Devon, considerably enlarging the house and erecting a tower in the park to the memory of his friend Stringer Lawrence, known as the Lawrence Tower or Haldon Belvedere. Despite being back in England his connection to India continued and Palk maintained a long correspondence with Warren Hastings, by then Governor General of India, for much of the rest of his life.
Appointments with Governor Palk are recorded in Reynolds' sitters book on 29 December 1760 and on six occasions in January 1761. The artist also painted a portrait of Palk’s wife, Anne Vansittart, which is now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.1
1 Inv. no. 95.178; see Mannings 2000, text vol., p. 361, cat. no. 1280, reproduced plates vol., p. 290, fig. 574.