John Wootton

George Henry Lee, 3rd Earl of Litchfield, and his Uncle the Hon. Robert Lee, Subsequently 4th Earl of Litchfield, Shooting in ‘True Blue’ Frock Coats


Not on display

John Wootton ?1682–1764
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 2038 × 2451 mm
Purchased 1933

Display caption

Wootton was greatly admired in his time for his landscapes, battle-scenes and sporting pictures. His abilities are well displayed in this large picture, where the imaginary landscape is not merely the backdrop to a sporting scene but becomes the dominant feature of the composition.
The 'true blue' coats of the main sitters were worn by supporters of 'Bonnie Prince Charlie' and show them to be Jacobite sympathisers. However the Earl, shown in the centre on a chestnut horse, prudently avoided involvement in the last Jacobite uprising of 1745, the year after this painting was completed.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

N04679 George Henry Lee, 3rd Earl of Lichfield, and his Uncle the Hon. Robert Lee, Subsequently 4th Earl of Lichfield, Shooting in ‘True Blue’ Frockcoats 1744

Oil on canvas 2085×2495 (80 1/4×96 3/16)
Inscribed ‘J. WOOTTON|Fecit|1744’ on small rock nearer river-bank, above head of reclining pointer; ‘R. Lee’ lettered on collar worn by each of the three pointers
Purchased by the National Gallery for presentation to the Tate Gallery 1933
PROVENANCE Presumably commissioned by George Henry Lee, 3rd Earl of Lichfield; by family descent to Harold Arthur (Dillon), 17th Viscount Dillon, CH, DCL, by order of whose executors sold Sotheby's 24 May 1933 (93, repr.) bt Leggatt Brothers for the National Gallery, by whose Trustees it was presented to the Tate Gallery
EXHIBITED Kenwood 1984 (13, repr.)
LITERATURE [Thomas Martyn], The English Connoisseur, 1766, reprinted 1968, I, p.31; Catalogue of Paintings ... at Ditchley, 1908, pp.27–8, no.40; Walpole's Correspondence, IX, pp.289–90, 321. Also repr.: Basil Taylor, Animal Painting in England from Barlow to Landseer, 1955, pl.14

The chief sitters are George Henry Lee, 3rd Earl of Lichfield (1718–72), mounted on a chestnut horse in the centre of the group, and his uncle, the Hon. Robert Lee, subsequently 4th Earl of Lichfield (1706–76), standing on the left. Both men carry double-barrelled flintlock shotguns, and have evidently been shooting with three pointers, the lettering on whose collars indicates that they belong to Robert Lee (and were presumably bred by him). A gamekeeper stoops over a shot pheasant on the left of the picture, and a groom attends on the right. The landscape may represent the park at Ditchley (seat of the Earls of Lichfield), near Woodstock, Oxfordshire.

The picture has been known since it left the family collection as ‘Members of the Beaufort Hunt’, a phrase taken from the lengthy description under which it was sold in 1933, but misleading as a title, since the gentlemen are portrayed after shooting. It was more succinctly described in the 1933 sale catalogue's Foreword (based on notes compiled by the 17th Viscount Dillon, FSA) as ‘representing the third and fourth Earls, wearing Beaufort Hunt coats’. The Beaufort Hunt in the early 1740s was permeated with Jacobite sympathies. The colour of the hunt coats was the same ‘true blue’ as that affected by adherents of the Young Pretender (‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’; this choice was, in Horace Walpole's phrase, a ‘loyal pun’ (letter of 19 July 1760 to George Montagu). Walpole, describing his visit to the Earl of Lichfield's seat at Ditchley (‘... a good house, well furnished, has good portraits, a wretched salon...’) particularly noted this picture; he described it as ‘portraits of the Litchfield-Hunt [sic], in true blue frocks, with ermine capes’. The ermine capes appear to have been an embellishment to the Beaufort Hunt coats sported only by the Earl of Lichfield and his uncle, perhaps to symbolise their own Stuart ancestry; the 3rd Earl of Lichfield was by 1744 fourth in line of descent from Charles I.

The 1933 sale included pastel portraits by William Hoare of the 3rd and 4th Earls of Lichfield, the 4th and 5th Dukes of Beaufort and Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, 3rd Bart (lots 48–52 respectively), all portrayed in ‘true blue’ Beaufort coats, and all Jacobite sympathisers. Hoare's pastel portraits (present whereabouts unknown) were apparently not dated, but are likely to have been made c.1744–5. Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, who died in 1749, was particularly deeply involved in the Jacobite schemes which culminated in the rebellion of 1745, the year after the date of Wootton's painting; but neither he, the Lichfields nor the Beauforts were Jacobites to the point of recklessness. They had pledged themselves to rally to the Pretender's flag if his bid for the throne was supported by a French invasion: but ‘on learning that the Young Pretender had landed in Scotland without French support they made no move’ (Romney Sedgwick, The House of Commons 1715–1754, II, 1970, p.545). By November 1760, Horace Walpole was able to report that the Earl of Lichfield had ‘kissed hands’ at St James's: that is, had sworn allegiance to the Crown in the person of the newly acceded third Hanoverian king, George III.

George Henry Lee succeeded his father as 3rd Earl of Lichfield in 1743, having represented Oxfordshire in the House of Commons for the previous three years (as a Tory). He was High Steward of the University of Oxford from 1760 to 1762, and Chancellor of that University from 1762 until his death; he also (having sworn allegiance) held offices in the Royal Household as Lord of the Bedchamber from 1760 to 1762 and as Captain of the Gentleman Pensioners from 1762 until his death. Walpole described him in 1759 as ‘unalterably good-humoured’, adding ‘if he did not make the figure that his youth had promised, the Jacobites could not reproach him, as he had drowned his parts in the jovial promotion of their cause - but of late he had warped a little from what they thought loyalty’ (Lord Holland (ed), Horace Walpole: Memoirs of the Reign of King George the Second, III, 1846, p.166). Lady Louisa Stuart recalled him as ‘a red-faced old gentleman, shaking all over with the palsy, who had almost drunk away his senses, and seemed hardly to know what he was saying or doing’ (Hon. James A. Home (ed.), Lady Louisa Stuart, 1899, pp.26–7). He was in fact only fifty-four when he died in 1772. He had married Dinah, daughter of Sir Thomas Frankland, but left no legitimate issue, and the title passed to his uncle Robert. His will (PCC Taverner 368) left ‘all my stud of Horses’ (as well as most of his other property) to his uncle, ‘requesting him nevertheless to take care that those of my Horses known by the following names (to wit) Old Billy, Mungo and Old Badminton are well kept and fed on the premises as long as life can be made agreeable to them...’

Robert Lee, youngest son of the 1st Earl of Lichfield, was aged seventy-six when he succeeded his nephew as 4th Earl in 1772. He died four years later, at Ditchley, as the result of a fall from his horse while hunting (the same fate had overtaken his fellow-member of the Beaufort Hunt and fellow-Jacobite, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, in 1749). As the 4th Earl of Lichfield left no issue or heir, the peerage became extinct upon his death. It may be noted here that an earlier member of the Lee family, Captain Thomas Lee, is represented in the Tate Gallery in a portrait attributed to Thomas Gheeraedts (T03028), also sold from the family collection in 1933.

The anonymous author (Thomas Martyn) of The English Connoisseur, 1766 noted that this picture, which he described as ‘Landskip. by Wootton: in which there are introduced his Lordship, and the Hon. Mr. Lee, taking the diversion of Shooting’, hung ‘with three Hunting-pieces, by Wootton’, in the Music Room at Ditchley. The present whereabouts of the ‘three Hunting-pieces’ is not known. Wootton's large painting ‘Stag-Hunting at Badminton’, portraying the 3rd Duke of Beaufort and others, is in the collection of the present Duke of Beaufort (sight size 2500×3650, 100×146). Wootton's painting called ‘The Beaufort Hunt with the Duke of Beaufort’, though apparently showing the central figure in a dark green coat, was formerly in the collection of Lt-Col. Harold Boyd-Rochfort, and was sold at Christie's 23 June 1978 (49, repr. in col.), bought by Ackermann.

The minutes of the Board of Trustees of the Tate Gallery record (20 June 1933) that N04679 was purchased by the National Gallery ‘for presentation to the Tate Gallery with a view to initiating a room of British sporting pictures’.

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

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