Godfrey Kneller 1646–1723
The First Marquess of Tweeddale
Oil paint on canvas
750 x 635 mm
Presented by Sir George Leon 1917
… ; acquired from Willson Bros, Pall Mall by Sir George Leon, by whom presented 1917.
Martin Davies, National Gallery Catalogues: The British School, London 1946, cat.3272, p.90.
J. Douglas Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller and the English Baroque Portrait, Oxford 1983, p.19 and cat.770, p.135.
John Hay, 1st Marquess of Tweeddale (1626–97) was the eldest son of John Hay, 8th Lord Hay of Yester and 1st Earl of Tweeddale. An eminent politician, he was a leading figure in the administration of Scotland. A firm supporter of William of Orange, on 5 June 1692 he was appointed Lord High Chancellor of Scotland; and on 17 December 1694 was created Marquess of Tweeddale. From 1695–6 he was High Commissioner to the Parliament of Scotland, and as such played a key role in the ordering of the special enquiry into the Glencoe massacre.
Kneller’s portrait shows Tweeddale in his official robes as Lord High Chancellor. To the left is the purse of the Great Seal of Scotland, richly embroidered with the Royal arms, the official symbol of Tweeddale’s authority. John Smith’s mezzotint after the portrait, inscribed with Tweeddale’s long list of honours, was first published in 1695, its publication most likely prompted by Tweeddale’s creation as Marquess, or his appointment as High Commissioner. The date of the print does not necessarily reflect the date of the painting, although this is most likely the case. Kneller portrays Tweeddale as a man of powerful intellectual authority, but he appears more elderly than in Kneller’s slightly earlier image of him, although the latter is only known through Smith’s 1690 mezzotint after it.
Nothing is known of the picture’s early history, nor if Tweeddale himself commissioned it. He was painted by Kneller at least three times, however, and Kneller also painted members of his family, which suggests that Tweeddale was a loyal and long standing patron. Indeed, Tweeddale was one of Kneller’s earliest patrons. Portraits of him, his wife, their son, Lord David Hay of Belton, and their daughter Sophia, seem to have been commissioned as a group in 1678 (the portraits of Tweeddale and his son are signed and dated), and about the same time Kneller also painted other members of their family, including Lady Margaret Hay and her husband Robert, 3rd Earl of Roxburghe. Stewart suggests that these commissions were gained through the influence and family connection of the Duchess of Monmouth, the niece of Tweeddale’s wife, Lady Jean Scott. Kneller’s then patron, James Vernon, was Secretary to the Duke of Monmouth, and in a letter to his brother of 1677 Kneller writes of his hopes of painting the Duchess. Kneller’s early images provided some of the likenesses for Sir John Baptist de Medina’s crowded dynastic portrait of Tweeddale and his family, c.1694 (Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh).
Despite its size, Tweeddale’s image is a formal one, presenting him in the full dignity of high office and with the traditional inclusion of the Lord Chancellor’s purse. But Kneller has achieved his acute portrayal of Tweeddale, and his commanding stare, with typical technical economy. The grey ground suffices for the shaded areas of the face, and other flesh tones have been thinly applied.