The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford, by Jean Baptiste van Loo, 1740 -NPG 70 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford

studio of Jean Baptiste van Loo
49 1/2 in. x 39 1/2 in. (1257 mm x 1003 mm)
NPG 70

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed on the back of the relining canvas: this Portrait of Sir. Robert Walpole (Earl of Orford) was/painted for Lord Bessborough by I. B. Vanloo in 1740 &/given to Lord Walpole by Lord.B. 1785.

This portraitback to top

Vertue, 1738, refers to a portrait by Vanloo whose 'great Success is likenes, naturaly without flaterry - or raising the character. but in that its remarkable that Sr. Robert Walpole and the Duke of Grafton. were done too grosely ... but the generallity were allwayes pleasd with his likeness of portrait'. [1] The following year he records that 'having had one picture drawn of him-self by Vanlo', Walpole 'lately since the death of Mr. Jarvis. sat to him for another (at whole len:)’. [2] Jervas had been principal painter to the King and Sir Robert 'so well likd and approvd of his [Vanloo's] painting that had it not been for an Act of Parliament that prevented Forreigners of any Nation to have or enjoy places of Salary in the Government. he would have presented him with the place of King's Painter'. [3] An engraving by J. Faber junior showing the sitter as one of the ‘Lords of the Regency Anno 1741’ [4] relates presumably to Vertue's note, May 1742, that 'Mr. Faber has lately finisht a large whole len. print of Sr. Robt. Walpole. in his robes. & holding the purse from a painting of Monsr. Vanlo.'. [5] The original oil is doubtless the ‘Ld Orford in Chance. Robes' listed, in the 'Blew Bedchamber' at Houghton in 1744. [6] This must now be the portrait in the Hermitage in chancellor's robes, signed and dated 1740, presumably among the Houghton paintings sold by the sitter's grandson in 1779. [7]
In a letter dated 12 September 1777, Cole wrote to Horace Walpole that the Bishop of Ely, [8] 'out of regard to your family, and father in particular ... had commissioned his son to buy your father's full length picture by Vanloo, and sold among Lord Montfort's pictures by Christie ... Lord Hertford was determined to have it ... I knew the late Lord Montfort gave sixty guineas to Vanloo for it’. [9] The portrait, a version of the Houghton type, is still at Ragley, the Hertford family seat. [10] A version is also at Lambeth Palace and another, presented to Sir Charles Hanbury Williams (q.v.) by the sitter, at Christie's, 17 March 1888, lot 41, listed 'in robes of chancellor ... a replica of the Picture at St Petersburg', from the collection of F. Hanbury-Williams, is now in the collection of J. M. A. Hanbury-Williams.
NPG 70 is a fair example of the type. Other three-quarter lengths include one descended to R. Hanbury-Tenison, Pontypool, given by the sitter, and the portrait seen by Scharf at Downing Street in 1892, later transferred to Chequers. The present head and shoulders in the cabinet room at 10 Downing Street was given by Lord Lee of Fareham. Further examples are the portrait exhibited ‘House of Guelph', 1891 (17), lent by Spencer Walpole, and the three-quarter lengths at Picton Castle (4), Haverfordwest, collection the Hon. R. H. Philipps, 1962, [11] at Dolau Cothy (8) (now National Trust), Carmarthenshire, collection Major H. J. Lloyd-Johnes, [12] and at Rockingham Castle, 1934.
A 'whole length in the Garter robes' in the 'Blue Damask Bed Char.' appears in the 1750 inventory of Houghton. [13] Like the portrait in chancellor's robes in the 1744 inventory, this is also located over the chimney. Presumably it is a replacement, possibly because of the sitter's resignation as chancellor.
A seated variant shows the sitter with his left hand on the great seal and his right out-stretched. A studio version is at Kensington Palace (Sir Oliver Millar, The Tudor Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures in the collection of Her Majesty The Queen, 1963, 542) and another at Christie's, from the collection of A. Morrison, 23 November 1951, lot 103, as by Sir James Thornhill, is at the Shire Hall, Warwick. A half length was at Stackpole Court (36). [14] A portrait described 'to the waist in his Garter robes ... perhaps by Eccardt' was at Holland House (140) [15] and one at Wimpole, 1798, was listed 'copy from v Loo'. [16]

Footnotesback to top

1) G. Vertue, Vertue Note Books (edited by The Earl of Ilchester), Walpole Society, 1930-55, III, p 84.
2) Ibid, p 97.
3) Ibid; Jervas died 2 November 1739.
4) In the absence of the king abroad.
5) G. Vertue, Vertue Note Books (edited by The Earl of Ilchester), Walpole Society, 1930-55, III, p 109.
6) Pictures etc at Houghton, 1744, MS, Hertfordshire County Record Office (Knebworth III).
7) See All Known Portraits. The collection included pictures from 10 Downing Street, the official residence after reconstruction, 1735, Dictionary of National Biography, XX, p 663. These were removed to Houghton in 1742 after Walpole's resignation as chancellor, G. Vertue, Vertue Note Books (edited by The Earl of Ilchester), Walpole Society, 1930-55, Index, p 281.
8) Edmund Keene (1714-81).
9) W. S. Lewis, Horace Walpole (A. W. Mellon Lectures, 1960-61), 1961, 2 (Cole II), p 57.
10) Francis Seymour Conway, Marquess of Hertford, was related through the sitter's first wife Catherine Shorter.
11) J. Steegman, A Survey of Portraits in Welsh Houses, 1957-62, II, p 189.
12) Ibid, p 55.
13) R. Robertson(?), A Description of the Pictures at Houghton Hall, 1750, NPG archives, p 9.
14) J. Steegman, A Survey of Portraits in Welsh Houses, 1957-62, II, p 204.
15) Catalogue of Pictures Belonging to the Earl of Ilchester at Holland House, 1904; Addenda and Corrigenda, 1939.
16) British Museum Add. MS 6391, f.20.

Physical descriptionback to top

Thick arched eyebrows, brown eyes, protruding lower lip, double chin, ruddy complexion, long grey wig parted in centre; black gown with gold embroidery over red velvet coat, partly unbuttoned, Garter ribbon and star, white lace cravat and wrist ruffles; in his left hand a paper, his right resting on the chancellor's scarlet purse inscribed: SIGILL. SCACCARII. DOM. REGIS, and encircling the royal arms: ... CTOR.ET. BRVNSWICEN. ET. LVNEBVRGEN. DVX. SAC. ROM.IMPARTHESAVE ...; [1] red velvet drapery top left, column on right; brown background; lit from left.

1) Beginning and end of inscription cut by edge of canvas.

Conservationback to top

Small retouchings in the chin, traces of bituminous craquelure in black of gown, level with his right hand; surface cleaned and varnished, 1895; re-varnished, 1970.

Provenanceback to top

Bought, 1859; painted 1740, as inscribed; for Brabazon Ponsonby, 2nd Viscount Duncannon and 1st Earl of Bessborough; given by his son, the 2nd Earl, to Horatio, 2nd Baron Walpole of Wolterton, [1] 1785; Wolterton Hall sale, March 1859, lot 1015, bought Colnaghi's.

1) Created 1st Earl of Orford, of 2nd creation, 1806.

Reproductionsback to top

Engraved by J. Faber junior, 1741 (J. Chaloner Smith, British Mezzotinto Portraits, 1878-83, 372).

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, 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 Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford


Pioneer Podcasts

Listen to a series of podcasts exploring the lives of pioneering women, past and present.

Explore the podcasts

Untitled, c.1973 (Alex Chilton) by William Eggleston © Eggleston Artistic Trust

Eggleston Playlist

William Eggleston was closely associated with the alternative music scene in Memphis. Revisit our 2016 exhibition and listen to a special playlist.

Listen to the playlist

Archive interviews

Links to audio and transcripts of interviews with artists, sitters and historic recordings.

Watch, listen and read