Francis Cotes

Anna Maria Astley, Aged Seven, and her Brother Edward, Aged Five and a Half


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Francis Cotes 1726–1770
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2000 × 1603 mm
frame: 2295 × 1890 × 140 mm
Purchased 1981

Display caption

The children in this portrait were the offspring of wealthy baronet and landowner Sir Edward Astley and his second wife Anne Milles. They are depicted at play on a classical terrace, reminiscent of the family’s grand estate at Melton Constable, Norfolk. Anna Maria, who waves her brother’s plumed hat above her head, died in childhood, the year after this portrait was painted. Edward, whose elder half-brother was to inherit his father’s title, lived to carve out a successful career as a soldier in the British army. It is thought that the portrait was commissioned by the children’s maternal grandfather.

Gallery label, February 2010

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Catalogue entry


Inscribed ‘ANNA MARIA DAUGHTER/OF/SR. EDWd. & DAME ANNE ASTLEY/AGED VII YEARS./EDWD. SON OF DO. AGED/V. YEARS & HALF./F. COTES PINX. 1767’ as if incised on ornamental urn upper left of centre
Oil on canvas, 78 3/4 × 63 3/4 (200 × 162)
Purchased for Thos Agnew & Sons Ltd (Grant-in-Aid) 1981
Prov: Presumably commissioned by Christopher Milles of Nackington, Kent, the children's maternal grandfather (rather than by their father), since it passed by descent through the Milles family to the 4th Earl Sondes (George Henry Milles-Lade, d.1970); the Trustees of the late Earl Sondes, sold Phillips 11 November 1980 (38, repr., and as colour frontispiece), bt Thos Agnew & Sons Ltd, from whom purchased 1981.

The sitters are the two elder children of Sir Edward Astley, 4th Bt, of Melton Constable, by his second wife Anne, youngest daughter of Christopher Milles, of Nackington, Kent, whom he married on 24 February 1759. Anna Maria is presumed (from her funeral monument, cited below) to have been born in January 1760, but there is no record of her birth or baptism at Melton Constable, where the registers of the parish church of St Peter record that Edward John was born on 11 June 1761 and baptised 17 August 1762 (information kindly communicated by the Revd M.F.C. Taylor, Rector of Melton Constable).

The children grew up at Melton Hall, Melton Constable, Norfolk, their father's seat, described by Pevsner as ‘one of the most perfect examples of the so-called Christopher Wren house’ (Nikolaus Pevsner, North East Norfolk and Norwich, 1962, pp.196–7). Sir Edward Astley (1729–1802) was M.P. for Norfolk from 1768 (the year after T03251 was painted) until 1790. He was described c.1780 as ‘open and affable in his manner, unaffected in his conversation and liberal in his principles’. In the House of Commons he consistently supported parliamentary reform and considered himself completely independent of party politics; he was primarily concerned with agricultural interests, on more than one occasion trying to deflect taxes from them on to what he considered less desirable elements in the community. In the debate on 8 June 1785 on the tax on maid-servants he owned that he should ‘be very well pleased to see both dogs and attornies subject to duty. He thought them both articles of luxury, and had coupled them in this manner, because most of those who employed them ought in his opinion to pay for such an indulgence, which he deemed in many ways exceptionable: indeed he had long wished to see a tax imposed on hairdressers, men milliners and others who dealt in effeminate occupations’ (Sir Lewis Namier and John Brooke, The House of Commons 1754–1790, 11, 1964, pp.30–1).

An ‘open and affable’ country gentleman of robust and liberal views was likely to relish the out-of-doors informality of Cotes's portraiture of the 1760s (and to condone the presence of the outsize and evidently entirely tolerant family dog in T 03251 as an ‘indulgence’ in his household, even if a potentially taxable one). Two years after Cotes had painted T 03251, Sir Edward Astley himself sat to Cotes (in Van Dyck costume, 39 1/2 × 29in., signed and dated 1769, evidently commissioned by the sitter since it is now, by direct descent, in the collection of The Lord Hastings; Edward Mead Johnson, Francis Cotes, 1976, p.97, no.276).

That T03251 was commissioned by Christopher Milles, the children's maternal grandfather, rather than by Sir Edward Astley, is suggested by the fact that this picture passed by descent through the Milles family (later Earls Sondes) rather than the Astley family (later Barons Hastings). Cotes received at least two other commissions from Christopher Milles: a portrait of his son Richard Milles (30 × 24in., signed and dated 1767, sold by the 4th Earl Sondes, Christie's 17 March 1972, lot 8, present whereabouts unknown; Johnson, op.cit., p.86, no.221) and a portrait of a lady, first identified as ‘Miss Milles’, later thought to be Mrs Richard Milles, but perhaps of Christopher Milles's daughter Lady Astley (50 × 40in., not signed or dated, originally sold by the 3rd Earl Sondes, Christie's 9 May 1896, lot 126 as by Reynolds, repr., resold at Christie's in 1897, 1905, 1922, 1975 and most recently on 19 November 1982, lot 92, repr.; Johnson, op.cit. p.91, no.244).

It was however presumably Sir Edward Astley who asked Cotes to paint a smaller, half-length portrait of his daughter Anna Maria, in much the same pose as in the double portrait (T03251), except that instead of flourishing her brother's hat in her right hand, both hands are tucked under her overskirt, while her own wide hat, attached by ribbons round her neck, is missing (30 × 25in., not signed or dated, in the collection of The Lord Hastings; Johnson, op.cit., p.105, Supplement no.15). Anna Maria Astley, aged seven in T03251, and apparently then full of health and vitality, died the year after Cotes painted the double portrait. A monument above the Astley family pew in St Peter's, Melton Constable, records her death on 29 March 1768, aged ‘Eight Years and Three Months’, and her burial four days later. Astley may well have asked Cotes to paint the smaller version of his daughter's portrait after her death, so that his own household should have a portrait of her.

Edward John Astley, aged five and a half in T03251, later joined the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards (not the 1st Life Guards, as stated in Burke's Peerage, Baronetage and Knightage, 1970, p.1274; see Army Lists, 1770–90), whose Colonel was William Henry, Duke of Gloucester; in this regiment he reached (21 May 1788) the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He also served for eight years as equerry to Henry Frederick, Duke of Cumberland (d.1790). Edward John Astley married Anne Little; he died at Richmond, Surrey, on 8 June 1806 (Gentleman's Magazine, 1806, 1, p.588), leaving no surviving issue. Lord Hastings's collection includes a small oval portrait of Edward John Astley as a young boy, with a whippet, traditionally attributed to Cotes but unlikely to be by him.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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