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William Windham II (1717-1761) in the Uniform of a Hussar

John Shackleton (fl.1742 - London 1767) or James Dagnia (1708/9-175)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

1742 - 1767

Materials

Oil on canvas

Measurements

2355 x 1420 mm

Order this image

Collection

Felbrigg, Norfolk (Accredited Museum)

NT 1401251

Caption

This portrait seems to have given rise to the legend that William II Windham (1717-61) served as an officer in the Empress Maria Theresa’s regiment of Hungarian Hussars, whilst on his travels. The story is highly improbable, but the complete nature of his costume suggests more than fancy dress, and that he actually possessed the real thing. It may also be an indication that he did get as far as Vienna and Hungary. After Maria Theresa’s coronation as Queen of Hungary in 1741, the Hungarians became her stoutest defenders, and the Hussars popular symbols of this for her English allies. What may have been this portrait was recorded in Dagnia’s hands at his death.

Summary

Oil painting on canvas, William Windham II (1717-1761) by John Shackleton (fl.1742 - London 1767) or James Dagnia (1708/9-1755). Full-length portrait of a man in a red uniform supposed to be that of Maria Theresa's Hussars, with a fur cape and hat. He holds a halberd in his right hand, rocks behind. This portrait seems to have given rise to the legend that, when on his travels (1738-42), Windham served as an officer in the Empress Maria Theresa's regiment of Hungarian Hussars. This is inherently improbable, but the complete nature of his costume here suggests more than fancy dress, and that he actually possessed the real thing. It may be another indication that he did get as far as Vienna and Hungary. After Maria Theresa's coronation as Queen of Hungary in 1741, the Hungarians became her stoutest defenders, and the Hussars popular symbols of this for her English allies. What may have been this portrait was recorded in Dagnia's hands at his death. William Windham II was the son of Ashe Windham and Elizabeth Dobyns; married Sarah Hicks

Full description

According to R.W. Ketton-Cremer, Felbrigg, 1962, p.115, there is no evidence for the story that Windham ever served in Maria Theresa’s regiment; but at some stage in his travels, perhaps when visiting Vienna, he might have acquired this “handsome and exotic uniform, Hungarian or Croatian in aspect”, though it is quite unnecessary to suppose this, since the uniform was evidently generally available as masquerade dress, the wearing of which was first inspired by the loyal rallying of the Magyars to Maria Theresa in 1741. The present whole-length could have been painted soon after William Windham’s return from abroad in 1742, but is more likely to have been painted after he succeeded to Felbrigg in 1749. It must, in particular be related to the virtually identically dressed oval head-and-shoulders portrait of The Hon. John Ponsonby (by Knapton?) at Hardwick, which belongs to a group of ovals apparently painted between 1743 and 1748; and - more remotely - to the signed and dated portrait of William Windham’s friend David Garrick as Tancred by Thomas Worlidge in the Garrick Club (cf. Geoffrey Ashton, Pictures in the Garrick Club, 1997, p.137, no. 247), a bust-length version of which is in the Theatre Museum (cf. ditto, Catalogue of Paintings in the Theatre Museum, London, 1992, pp. 12-13, no. 7): the most curious thing about this last is that neither is there anything in James Thomson’s play Tancred and Sigismunda to justify or account for Tancred wearing Hussar dress, nor is Tancred ever alone on the stage out of doors as Garrick is shown. Garrick created the role in 1745, but the portrait was not painted until the revival of 1752: could he then have either borrowed, or have taken his inspiration from, his friend Windham’s costume, to add a novel note to the part? Intriguingly, at one point Garrick seems to have owned, or at least to have hung, the present portrait, or a replica of it: G.H., in a footnote to John Nichols's description of Windham in his Illustrations of the Literary History of the Eighteenth Century, 1817, vol. I, p. 508, says: “I remember seeing at Mr Garrick's in the Adelphi, a whole-length of him, in a picturesque habit, and presenting a most elegant form”: could Garrick have been encouraged by Windham to collect the latter’s portrait of him from Dagnia’s house after his death (see below)? Much more curious is the portrait of The Hon. John Ponsonby, whose costume is not only identical to Windham’s, but identically depicted - down even to the undone fastening, six buttons down (Windham only appears to lack the jewel fastening the aigrette to his shako). Even more disconcertingly, it would appear that the sitter in the two paintings is the same, his face merely shown at a slightly different angle. Yet Barthélémy du Pan’s pastel head leaves no doubt that it is Windham who is shown in the Felbrigg full-length, and no connection of his with either the Cavendishes or Ponsonbys is recorded. The likeness must therefore be fortuitous; but can the almost identically shown costume, and closely related face (in execution, as well as in features), only be the same artist repeating himself? This would mean that the Felbrigg portrait must be by George Knapton or Jeremiah Davison, if either of these two attributions is well founded. Or are both pictures by James “Count” Dagnia? The case for “Count” James Dagnia (for whom see esp. the paper read by the Rev. C.E. Adamson to the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle, printed in its Proceedings, New Series 6, 1893/4, pp. 163-68; and the brief entry on him in John Ingamells’s edition of Sir Brinsley Ford’s Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701 - 1800, 1997, p.265; as well as the catalogue card for the portrait of him at Felbrigg, FEL.P.152) as the artist is a slender one. Rev. C.E. Adamson says that he was known not only as “the famous gentleman glass-blower”, but also as “the gentleman painter”. He cites [ - ? - ] Mackenzie in his Northumberland [Look up full title, date & reference] as calling him “a celebrated amateur in painting.” He further quotes one Spearman as saying in one of his letters to Sir Cuthbert Sharp (Sharp MSS., vo. 71): “that he figured in Rome as Count Dagnia, and that he was patronised by Earl Mallox (recte Malton), afterwards earl of Rockingham, the earl of Denbigh, and the Duke of Cleveland”. It therefore seems very possible that, working for another aristocratic patron in the North, the Duke of Devonshire, he should have executed the set of oval portraits at Hardwick Hall, copying different originals - hence their diversity of style - as well as that he should have the present portrait, which he may have modelled upon a lost original of a closely resembling sitter, the Hon. John Ponsonby, by George Knapton (or by Jeremiah Davison, though he now seems less likely as author of the Hardwick portraits - and even less so of a naturalistic whole-length such as this). The present portrait would certainly appear to have been the one that is referred to in a letter from Benjamin Stillingfleet in London to William II Windham, dated 18 November 1755 [cited in typescript of c.1958 by Wyndham Ketton Cremer]: “I find poor Dagnia is certainly dead, this I heard from Shackleton ... [who] told me he had desir’d the persons concern’d in Dagnia’s affairs to let you know there was a picture of yours in his hands, which if you or some of your friends do not choose to purchase would be sold by auction.” As Wyndham Ketton Cremer remarked, the location “of yours” must have meant “of you”, since there could have been no question of Windham being called upon to buy a picture that he already owned - let alone of his friend even wanting to, unless it was of him. The only reasonable explanation is that it was a portrait that Dagnia had painted of his friend, for himself (and not on commission, or there would have been some question of down payment). [The only other possibility, which might possibly tally with Farington’s reference to the whole-length portrait in the Drawing Room as being of William II Windham and with the ascription of the present portrait to Shackleton in the 1810 print of it, is that the portrait was by Shackleton himself, and of Windham; but Shackleton does not seem to have indicated to Stillingfleet that he had any personal involvement with the picture, not does its handling seem compatible with his having painted the “Mr Dagnia” at Felbrigg]. In the event, if G.H.’s footnote in John Nichols’s Illustrations is to be believed, it was one of Windham’s friends - Garrick - rather than Windham himself, who collected the picture, and hung it in his house. This may account for the curious fact that there is no mention of the present picture in the 1764 or 1771 lists of the paintings at Felbrigg: it may well have not been returned to William III Windham until after Garrick’s own death in 1779. William III Windham may then have hung it in place of the portrait of James Dagnia, over the chimneypiece of the Drawing Room (which would account not only for Farington’s having reported a whole-length of William II Windham there, but for the engraver of the picture, having been told that a portrait by Shackleton - in fact of “Mr Dagnia” - was recorded by old lists as hanging in that position, ascribing the portrait to Shackleton). It may seem presumptuous to overturn the evidence of the letter of a print made less than fifty years after William II’s death, but one has to remember that in 1810 his son died too. His death occurred, it is true, a month after the print was published, but he may not have been in any position to give accurate information to the engraver. What is absolutely clear is that the whole-length of William II Windham cannot be by the same artist; the portrait of the latter is attested by the lists of 1764 and 1771 as being by Shackleton, which thus rules him out as the painter of the present portrait. That it is certainly by James Dagnia is difficult to assert with any confidence, in the absence of any other known painting by him. The easy pose, the fit and fall of the clothes, and the fine treatment of the face and hands, in the present portrait, might seem to bespeak a professional rather than an amateur painter; its setting, on the other hand, is rudimentary, and there is a lack of body to the depiction, which means that it has not stood up well to the passage of time. Unless and until further evidence appears, the question of the picture’s attribution must remain open.

Provenance

Painted for the sitter, but successively lent to James Dagnia, until his death in 1755; and then to David Garrick, until the sitter’s own death in 1761?; thereafter by descent and the transmission of Felbrigg and its contents; which were bequeathed to the National Trust in 1969 by Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer (1906-1969).

Marks and inscriptions

On centre stretcher: William Windham (1717-1761) by JOHN SHACKLETON Windham is said to have served for a short time as an officer in Maria Theresa's hussars, which may account for his exotic uniform. As Colonel of the Norfolk Militia, he would hardly have worn so splendid a disguise. The ice-axe presumably refers to his ascent of Mont Blanc and the pamphlet he wrote about the Mer de Glace. On centre stretcher: W. Boswell & Son OLD PICTURES Relined, Cleaned & Restored EXPERTS & VALUERS OF WORKS OF ART Gilding in all its Branches St. Ethelbert House, Tombland NORWICH Established 1725 Telephone 229 On centre stretcher: The portrait was cleaned and relined by Messrs. Boswell of Norwich, April-June 1939. R.W. Ketton-Cremer June 30th 1939

Makers and roles

John Shackleton (fl.1742 - London 1767) or James Dagnia (1708/9-175) , artist James Dagnia (1708/9-1755), artist John Shackleton (fl.1742 – London 1767), artist

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