11 January 2015

William Hoare's portrait of Pitt the Elder

A happy Pitt fan below a portrait of Lord Chatham at The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath (2013)

In the mid-1760s, the Bath artist William Hoare was commissioned to paint a portrait of William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778), who was soon to be elevated to the peerage. 

Hoare wrote to Pitt on June 2, 1766 to request a sitting:

“...[I] have the honour of drawing your Picture for the Hall of this City [Bath]; I hope you will excuse the liberty of this Letter, to present my Duty and Respects, desiring to be made happy by the Continuance of your Favour and Approbation. I shall be ready to attend your Commands in whatever manner shall be most convenient you, being Sr, with great Respect, Your most Obedient and Obliged Humble Servant, William Hoare. Permit me, Sr, to present my Respects to Lady Chatham." [1]

Pitt duly sat to Hoare for his portrait, and it was presented to the City Hall of Bath. Unfortunately, the painting did not stand the test of time. Only 6 years later, Hoare was writing to Pitt, now styled Lord Chatham, on September 26, 1772 to let him know that it would need to be re-done:

“…Mr. Brompton having informed me of the perished State of the Portrait I had the honour to draw for Your Lordship, I have the Mayors leave to borrow that which I did for the Town Hall, & will make an intire [sic] new one, with the utmost attention, & have the back of it painted over that it may last for ever." [2]

By the following February, William Hoare wrote to Lord Chatham to say that the painting had been completed. Apparently, it had been exposed to damp on the wall of the Bath Town Hall. The new version of the portrait would be sent to Chatham's Somersetshire estate at Burton Pynsent: 

“I have finished the Picture of Your Lordship which I desired to do to supply the place of the other which suffered from the damp of the Wall. It shall now have a sufficient priming behind, & it shall be sent to [Burton] Pyncent [sic] by the first good Opportunity. All in my house unite our best Respects to your Lordship, Lady Chatham, and the Young Gentlemen and Ladies." [3]

Lord Chatham was very unwell with a bad bout of 'gout' in early 1773, so his wife Lady Chatham wrote to thank William Hoare. The portrait was not yet sent to Burton Pynsent. In return, Hoare addressed a note to Lady Chatham from Bath on March 27, 1773. He mainly wanted to enquire when it could be sent to their estate:

“I have the favor of Your Ladyship’s very obliging Letter, and am very sorry that Lord Chatham has suffered with so grievous an Illness. I hope he will soon be free from it, with the advantage of this enlivening weather. My Picture is all ready. I am seeking an opportunity to send it and have one in view: I shall be very happy in Lord & Lady Chatham's approbation of it, which I have done with the utmost pleasure, and my greatest Respects accompany it. I shall ever retain the highest sense of their many Favours to me and mine. We All join with our best Respects to Lord and Lady Chatham, & to the Young Gentlemen & Ladies…" [4]

There the correspondence ends, and it isn't clear when the portrait was sent to Burton Pynsent. One such original Hoare portrait of William Pitt the Elder hangs in the reception parlour of The Royal Crescent Hotel in Bath. I had the unexpected pleasure of seeing it there during one of my stays at the hotel in 2013. The portrait may be over 240 years old, but it is still in very good condition. It would make Hoare proud.


References:

1. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 328. William Hoare to Lord Chatham, June 2, 1766. The National Archives. 

2. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 337A. William Hoare to Lord Chatham, September 26, 1772. The National Archives. 

3. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 337C. William Hoare to Lord Chatham, February 1773. The National Archives. 

4. Hoare MSS: PRO 30/70/5, f. 337E. William Hoare to Lady Chatham, March 27, 1773. The National Archives. 

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