Oil painting on canvas, Lord Robert Spencer (1747-1831) by Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792), signed and dated, 1769. A three-quarter-length portrait of a young man, standing in a landscape and resting his left arm on a plinth, wearing a fancy costume of a green embroidered doublet and red pantaloons under a red cape lined with green silk.
Lord Robert Spencer was the third son of Charles, 3rd Duke of Marlborough and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas, Lord Trevor. He was married late in life to Henrietta, the widow of Edward Bouverie, the brother of the 1st Earl of Radnor. He appears to have known Reynolds for much of his life. When he was a young boy of about ten years, he sat to Reynolds for a portrait (collection of the Duke of Marlborough, Blenheim. Later it appears the Spencer and Reynolds mixed socially; both were members of Brooke’s club (where Spencer had a success at gaming), and it is recorded that Lord Robert visited the artist on June 2, 1790 when failing eyesight had caused him to retire from painting. Lord Robert had some interest in art. He was a member of the Dilettanti and among his collection was no less a painting than Raphael's Ansidei Madonna which the artist/agent Gavin Hamilton procured for him in 1764 when he was at the incredibly tender age of seventeen (now National Gallery, London).” (Important Old Master Paintings, Sotheby’s, New York, 22nd January 2004) Although since he is said later to have ‘given’ the picture to his eldest brother, the 4th Duke, it is much more likely that this date is mistaken, and that he acquired it on his behalf when in Italy in 1767-8. He was educated at Harvard and Christ Church, Oxford, and by a tutor, the Reverend John Moore (later Archbishop of Canterbury), who was his ‘bear-leader’ on his first visit to Italy, from Venice in February 1767 to Florence In July 1768. He revisited Italy in 1771. He was MP for New Woodstock (1768-71), Oxford (1771-90), Wareham (1790-99), Tavistock (1802-7 & 1817), and for New Woodstock again (1818-20). He was a staunch Foxite Whig. He became a member of the Dilettanti in 1770. Later in life, in 1811, he married a woman to whom he was already related, and who had connections with the world of collectors and connoisseurs: Harriot, sister of William Augustus and Everard Fawkener – probably nephews of the William Fawkener who left 39 volumes of print and drawings to the British Museum in 1769 – and widow of the Hon. Edward Bouverie (1738-1810), of Delapré Abbey, Northants., second son of the paintings collector, Sir Jacob Bouverie, 1st Viscount Folkestone, cousin of the great drawings (especially of Guercino) collector, John Bouverie. Her mother was Georgiana Poyntz, a niece of Margaret Georgiana Poyntz, wife of John, 1st Earl Spencer, the great collector, and builder of Spencer House.
Commissioned by the 4th Duke of Marlborough (the sitter's brother), and formerly at Blenheim; the painting hung at Woolbeding House, Midhurst (the former seat of Lord Robert Spencer) as the property of Mrs Henry Lascelles from 1938 until it was sold by the trustees of Edward Charles Ponsonby Lascelles (1884-1956) & Miss A. L. Lascelles at auction, Sotheby’s, London, 18 November 1970, lot 65; purchased in London in the early 1970s and taken to the USA by the vendors at Sotheby’s, New York, 22 January 2004, lot 51 when it was bought back and returned to Woolbeding by the Hon. Simon Sainsbury (1930 - 2006) and by whom bequeathed
Makers and roles
Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (Plympton 1723 - London 1792), artist
Algernon Graves & William Vine Cronin, History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A., London, 1899–1901, pp.925-6.
Waterhouse 1973: Ellis K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, London, 1973 , p.60.
Mannings 2000 David Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings. The Subject Pictures catalogued by Martin Postle, New Haven & London 2000, p.425, cat.no.1672, fig.985