Image: Francis Greville, 1st Earl of Warwick, after Gainsborough. Gouache on paper laid on canvas. Calke Abbey, National Trust.
A few weeks ago I came across this rather disconcerting image on the National Trust’s Collections website.
This damaged and torn image is a portrait of Francis Greville, 1st Earl of Warwick, (1719-1773). It is in fact a copy of a print of Francis’s portrait by Thomas Gainsborough c.1765 currently in the Cincinnati Art Museum.
Francis was a significant patron of the arts, and employed the likes of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown and Giovanni Antonio Canaletto to improve and paint Warwick Castle, his ancestral seat. His likeness was captured by some of the leading artists of the eighteenth century, including Jean-Marc Nattier, Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough.
Over the past few weeks, I have been investigating the efforts made by Francis to educate his children. Remarkably, each of his six children were trained in the visual arts, some of them receiving direct tutelage from some of the likes of Alexander Cozens and Paul Sandby. This was not only confined to the male members of the family, but to the young women too. His first daughter Louisa Augusta Greville was a talented engraver, and several of her copies of Old Masters were exhibited by the Society of Aritsts. His youngest daughter Lady Anne Greville, who lived a tragically short twenty-three years, took a drawing master in Paris during the 1770s. The Grevilles in this period were very much a family of ‘amateur’ artists.
The portrait belonged to his daughter Frances, Lady Harpur, and is still in the collection of her former home Calke Abbey in Derbyshire. It seems that this wonderful country house was filled with many artworks by and of the Greville family, there are no less than seven portraits of her father listed there. Both Frances and her sister Louisa had their portraits painted by Angelica Kauffman, the leading female painter in Georgian Britain, a copy of which remains at Calke.
Damage is always lamentable, and I mourn this artwork greatly. Works on paper are in many ways more fragile than most. Threatened by damp, mould and rot, it seems this poor example might have suffered from clumsy storage or the fingers of a mindless vandal.
Might the portrait have been a copy by his daughter Frances, or by one of her siblings? A few rare surviving portraits made by the family make it at least possible. I hope and wonder whether someone might take pity on this picture in the future, and have poor Francis stitched back together.