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George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer

5 of 21 portraits by John Singleton Copley

Regency Portraits Catalogue

George John Spencer, 2nd Earl Spencer

by John Singleton Copley
circa 1800
29 in. x 24 in. (737 mm x 610 mm)
NPG 1487

This portraitback to top

The portrait was commissioned by Lord Willoughby, Spencer's fellow Tory and admirer of Pitt. Probably at Willoughby's death in 1816 it returned to Lord Spencer and hung in London, there already being the Copley whole-length in Garter Robes at Althorp (J. D. Prown, John Singleton Copley, 1966, p 432 and plate 629). It was seen at Spencer House in 1854 by Admiral Sir Watkin Pell, then Superintendent of Greenwich Hospital, and its purchase by himself and Lady Pell is described in his MS pocket diary in the National Maritime Museum library, ending 'I paid for a portrait of Earl Spencer by Copley painted for Lord Willoughby; we brought it home in the carriage and a bird cage' (J. D. Prown, John Singleton Copley, 1966, p 432 and typescript copy in NPG archive). Pell joined the Royal Navy (and lost his left leg) during Spencer's term of office at the Admiralty and no doubt wished to acquire the portrait to honour a man for whom more than 'any other English administrator may be claimed the title of organiser of victory' (J. K. Laughton in Dictionary of National Biography).

Physical descriptionback to top

Head and shoulders to left in light brown coat and waistcoat, white neckcloth and shirt-frill, Ribbon and Star of KG (awarded 1799); grey powdered hair, black eyebrows, dark brown eyes, florid complexion, serious expression; crimson curtain background.

Provenanceback to top

Lord Willoughby; the Spencer family and bought from Spencer House by Admiral Sir Watkin Owen Pell 1854; Christie's 23 November 1907 (86) bought Moore & Sons; Leggatt Bros and bought from them in 1908, the first of a sequence of transactions happily still in existence.

Exhibitionsback to top

This or the Althorp whole-length at RA 1800 (24); on loan to the House of Lords since 1972.

Reproductionsback to top

(Of the Althorp whole-length)
Mezzotint by R. Dunkarton 1801; stipple by B. Holl 1830.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, 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.

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