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William Shenstone

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William Shenstone

by Edward Alcock
oil on canvas, 1760
59 3/8 in. x 39 1/4 in. (1508 mm x 997 mm)
Purchased, 1868
Primary Collection
NPG 263

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Edward Alcock (died 1782), Artist. Artist or producer associated with 2 portraits.

This portraitback to top

In this portrait by Alcock, Shenstone is depicted in a classically-inspired interior setting. Through the arch is a view of the village of Halesowen and the 'ruinated priory' which he erected in the grounds of Leasowes. When describing the portrait in a letter to his fellow-poet Richard Graves, he identified the greyhound as 'my faithful Lucy'. More detailed information on this portrait is available in a National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue, John Kerslake's Early Georgian Portraits (1977, out of print).

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 42
  • Kerslake, John, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, p. 247
  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 70 Read entry

    ‘A large, heavy, fat man, shy and reserved with strangers,’ William Shenstone was a poet from the Midlands and a bachelor. Of private means, he had inherited the estate of Leasowes near Halesowen from his guardian in 1745 and began what was in effect his life’s work, laying out and beautifying the grounds. The Leasowes was to become in the words of his schoolfriend, Dr Johnson, ‘a place to be visited by travellers and copied by designers’, and in Shenstone holds an important place in the history of British landscape gardening. Through the arch in the painting can be seen the village of Halesowen and the ‘ruinated priory’ that he had erected in the grounds.

    Shenstone’s Letters include detailed descriptions of his requirements for this portrait, which he had commissioned from a local artist. The relief of the water nymph on the pedestal was to represent the River Stour, ‘which in some sort rises at The Leasowes’. The ‘scarlet geranium’ in the ‘antique vase’ would also reflect his interests, though it had to be supplied by a friend. ‘The dog on the other side is my faithful Lucy, which you perhaps remember,’ Shenstone says in a letter to his lifelong friend, the poet Richard Graves. In contrast to the outdoor pursuits usually implied by eighteenth-century portraits of one man and his dog, the classical allusions and the look of mute adoration on the face of the little greyhound imply a closer form of companionship. Lucy may well have outlived her master, for Shenstone died three years later.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 561

Placesback to top

Events of 1760back to top

Current affairs

Death of George II on 25 October at the age of 76. George III succeeds to the throne at the age of 22.

Art and science

German artist Johan Zoffany arrives in England, where he is instrumental in reviving the 'conversation piece' genre of painting.
First public exhibition of paintings in England is held at the Society of Arts' Great Room in the Strand, London.
The Public Ledger is founded; the oldest British periodical with continuous daily publication.


Seven Years' War: At the Battle of Carrickfergus in Ireland, a force of French troops captures the town of Carrickfergus before retiring.
Surrender of Montreal to the British under General Jeffrey Amherst signals the virtual loss of Canada by the French. British troops oust the Nawab of Bengal Mir Jafar and replace him with Mir Quasim.
Former Chief Tacky leads an unsuccessful slave rebellion in Jamaica, which aims to overthrow British rule.

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