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Richard Kempenfelt

1 of 3 portraits by Ralph Earl

Richard Kempenfelt, by Ralph Earl, 1783 -NPG 1641 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Richard Kempenfelt

by Ralph Earl
1783
50 in. x 39 in. (1270 mm x 991 mm)
NPG 1641

Inscriptionback to top

Signed lower left, on the anchor: R. Earl Pinxt 1783.

This portraitback to top

Although dated 1783, after Kempenfelt’s death, the head is vigorously painted, suggesting it was painted from the life, i.e. before April 1782 when Kempenfelt departed for Spithead on his last voyage. It has been observed that the likelihood of an American artist being commissioned to paint a portrait of a deceased English hero is remote, but if he had already painted the head he would undoubtedly have received commissions. [1] The rest of the composition, imitating Gainsborough’s portrait of the 3rd Earl of Bristol and displaying a carefully-described uniform, is more pedestrian. The distant three-decker appears to derive from the mezzotint by Richard Earlom (published on 22 October 1782 after Kettle’s whole-length portrait), identified as the Royal George.

Footnotesback to top

1) As first proposed by W & S. Sawitzky, Worcester Art Museum Annual, VII, 1960, p 24.

Physical descriptionback to top

Grey eyes, grey powdered buckle-wig, wearing the full-dress uniform of a flag officer: dark-blue coat with gold facings, white waistcoat with gold trim and white breeches; holding a wooden telescope in his right hand, resting his elbow on an anchor; the distant three-decker, resembling the Royal George, flies a plain blue flag on the main mast1 and blue flags quartered with a white cross fore and aft.

1 Normally indicating an admiral of the blue; the flag of a rear-admiral of the blue would fly from the mizzen (third) mast, as in the Kettle portrait (M. S. Robinson, letter of 24 January 1947 on file). Kempenfelt hoisted his flag as rear-admiral of the blue on 7 April 1782 on the Royal George at Spithead.

Provenanceback to top

Graves 1889;1 John Glen, London, 1911; Leggatt, from whom purchased 1912.

1 Where sketched by Scharf in 1889 (Sir George Scharf's Trustees' Sketch Books, 35/37).

Exhibitionsback to top

Ralph Earl, Washington, Hartford, Fort Worth, 1992 (12).


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

View all known portraits for Richard Kempenfelt