Catalogue entry

T01971 Thomas Herring, Archbishop of Canterbury 1744–7

Inscribed ‘W. Hogarth pinx.t 1744’ centre left above hand, ‘Hogarth pinx.|1747’ b.l.; and ‘Thomas Herring. Archbishop of Canterbury 1747’ t.r. in yellow paint
Oil on canvas 1270×1015 (50×40)
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1975
PROVENANCE By descent to the sitter's niece Mrs Richard Stone, thence to her son George Stone of Chislehurst, Kent; his daughter June, who married Admiral Richard Crozier; their daughter Mary Frances, who married Sir Richard Biddulph Martin; thence to his great-nephew Edward Holland Martin, sold Christie's 7 July 1967 (103, repr.) bt Leggatt; The Hon. Colin Tennant from whom bt by the Tate Gallery
EXHIBITED BI 1846 (53); British Portraits, RA 1956–7 (228); The Age of Rococo, Munich 1958 (228); Tate Gallery 1971 (121, repr.)
LITERATURE Letters from the Late Most Reverend Dr. Thomas Herring ... to William Duncombe Esq., 1777, pp.88, 89; Nichols 1782, pp.242, 464, 1785, pp.280, 297; Nichols & Steevens, I, 1808, p.192; Nichols 1833, p.380; J. Biddulph Martin, The Grasshopper in Lombard Street, 1892, p.93, repr.; Dobson 1907, p.173; Beckett 1949, p.52, no.154; Antal 1962, pp.2, 20, 40, 232 n.23, fig.76a; Baldini & Mandel 1967, p.106, no.154, repr.; J. Ingamells, ‘Hogarth's “red” Herrings: a study in iconography’, Connoisseur, CLXXIX, 1972, p.21, repr.; Paulson 1971, II, pp.5–9, 27, 29, 31, 243, 425 n.15, 458 n.70, figs. 191a, b, c; H. Omberg, William Hogarth's Portrait of Captain Coram, Uppsala 1974, pp.124–5, 160; Kerslake 1977, I, pp.138–9, II, fig.373; Webster 1979, pp.95, 101, no.145, repr.; J. Ingamells, The English Episcopal Portrait 1559–1835, 1981, pp.217–19, fig.126; Bindman 1981, pp.125–6, fig.95

The portrait was begun in 1744 while Thomas Herring (1693–1757) was Archbishop of York, a post he held from 1743 until his promotion to the see of Canterbury in 1747. The zeal with which he mobilised in 1745 royalist forces in Yorkshire against Prince Charles made him a national hero and earned him the nickname of ‘Red’ Herring. He was to be one of Hogarth's most elevated sitters, and the artist appears to have been acutely aware of this. According to Nichols (1785, p.297) Hogarth reportedly observed while the Archbishop was sitting to him: ‘Your Grace, perhaps, does not know that some of our chief dignitaries in the church have had the best luck in their portraits. The most excellent heads painted by Vandyck and Kneller were those of Laud and Tillotson. The crown of my works will be the representation of your Grace.’

The result is that the conscious effort to produce a work in the grand European, notably French, tradition is more noticeable in this than in any other of his portraits. Significantly, Hogarth had been to France in 1743 and Paulson (1971, II, p.8, fig.192) points out the closeness of the conception to Quentin de La Tour's portrait of ‘Le Président des Rieux’ of 1741. In fact the picture shares a family likeness with many eighteenth-century portraits cast in the Baroque mould by Van Loo, Largillière, Rigaud and others. Unlike the portrait of Bishop Hoadly (N02734), which was completed in 1741, T01971 affects the grandeur of simplicity by keeping to a remarkably subdued (for Hogarth) colour scheme of black and white and an olive curtain, and eschewing any ‘business’ of detail that might detract from the magisterial gesture of his left hand and the dominating vitality of expression. Hogarth even went against his usual tendency to overcrowd compositions by painting out one conventional background prop, a classical pedimented column which filled the left margin of the picture and which is now clearly visible under the overpaint. Hogarth's 1744 signature originally fitted logically into its base and was thus not so noticeably suspended in mid-air above the Bishop's right hand as it is now.

The painting, however, failed to please, and Herring wrote to his friend Duncombe in November 1745 that ‘None of my friends can bear Hogarth's picture’ (Letters, 1777, p.88). The Revd John Duncombe observed, when annotating his father's Letters, that the picture as engraved by Baron ‘... exhibits rather a caricature than a likeness, the figure being gigantic, the features all aggravated and outrés, and, on the whole, so far from conveying an idea of that ... engaging sweetness and benevolence which were characteristic of this prelate, that they seem rather expressive of a Bonner, who could burn a heretic.’

It is probably this displeasure (rather than any rethinking in the light of his discoveries in France as suggested by Paulson) that led to the reworking of parts of the picture in 1747, as attested by the second signature in the bottom left-hand corner. It coincides with Herring's removal from York to Canterbury and was possibly an attempt to modify the painting to fit in better with his ideas of an official portrait of the Lambeth Palace series. Much repainting is noticeable about the hands which appear to have been lowered together with the arm-rests, presumably to reduce the width of the figure. The book could also have been added at this time. Similarly the shoulders have been dropped and the areas of the white lawn sleeves greatly reduced by covering them with the black gown. The solidly painted head contrasts markedly with the extraordinary breadth and fluidity of the brushwork in the rest of the painting, the white sleeve on the right in particular. How willingly Hogarth undertook the alterations is impossible to say, but it would have been his ambition to produce a likeness that satisfied, as Herring's position and popularity would have ensured a wide circulation of prints after the painting.

However, as far as we know no formal engraving was made of the picture as it was in 1744, with the exception of a hasty portrait medallion to adorn the broadsheet of Herring's York speech of 1745 (Ingamells 1972, fig.3). The engraved text of this states ‘William Hogarth Pinx.t ... C. Mosley sculp’ and it serves to confuse the issue by showing the pose and characteristic gesture of T01971, but a completely different three-quarters view of the head. The latter is not unlike that of the portrait of Herring by an unknown hand (possibly Wills) of which there are versions both at Lambeth Palace and Bishopsthorpe, and the conclusion has been drawn from this that the Mosley engraving is a combination of the two, enabling the second portrait type to be dated to c. 1744 on that basis. The difficulty here is that while the Hogarth pose of the Mosley engraving is in reverse to the oil, the head is in the same sense as the Lambeth-Bishopsthorpe picture, and it is unlikely that an engraver would have reversed the one and not the other. We are thus left with the possibility that the engraving does in fact represent the original state of the portrait and that the alterations Hogarth thought worthy of another signature involved no less than scraping out the old head and repainting it as we see it now. This is not immediately evident on the physical examination of the picture, and a final answer will probably be only provided by an X-ray, but evident alterations to the Bishop's left shoulder may well have been required by a change in the position of the head. A careful examination of the 1745 engraving shows that some of the sketchiest and lightest brushwork, which one would have been inclined to consider as part of the later reworking of the pictures, is already represented in the engraving, (e.g. the diagonal fold of the black gown beneath the pointing hand). At the same time, a semi-circular projection of the sleeve directly underneath the same hand, clearly shown in the engraving, has been painted over, but is still visible as a pentimento. In other words, Mosley, within his limited abilities, followed his pattern fairly closely, and in view of this approach, his head is not sufficiently close to the Lambeth-Bishopsthorpe version for it to have been taken from there.

Hogarth's portrait was formally engraved by Bernard Baron only in 1750, and as early as 1748 Herring's correspondence shows that his next sitting was to be to Thomas Hudson (Letters, 1777, p.89), whose workmanlike but pedestrian likeness became Herring's preferred official portrait. The Hogarth painting remained in Herring's family and, as far as is known, no copies were made after it, although John Simon Webster's presumably posthumous portrait of 1757 at Lambeth Palace (Ingamells 1972, fig.9), seems to depend on it for the likeness but not the pose.

Although Hogarth painted several successful portraits of sitters belonging to Herring's ecclesiastical circle, it appears that there was no personal rapport between the prelate who, as a young preacher in 1728 condemned The Beggar's Opera from the pulpit as ‘a thing of very evil tendency’, and the artist who found in the very same subject (N02437) the catalyst that was to lead him towards his own original style and scope in painting. It seems fitting that Hogarth's masterpiece in the grand manner, that least suited for his talent and furthest removed from the intimate satire of his ‘modern moral subjects’, should be his portrait of the Archbishop.


Published in:
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988