Michael Dahl, Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend (1675–1738)

Photo courtesy of Tom St Aubyn (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend (1675–1738)
The Marble Hall
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 124.5 cm, Overall width: 101.6 cm
Michael Dahl (1659-1743)
Catalogue Number
  • Inscribed bottom left in yellow paint: ‘Charles Townshend/ Viscount Townshend’


Charles Townshend (1675–1738) was born on 18 April 1675, the eldest son and heir of Horatio Townshend, 1st Viscount Townshend and his second wife Mary Ashe. He married Elizabeth Pelham, daughter of Thomas, Baron Pelham, with whom he had five surviving children. After her death in 1711 he married in 1713 Dorothy Walpole (see RN70), sister of his neighbour and political ally Robert Walpole, with whom he had a further six surviving children. 

Townshend took a leading role in Norfolk and national politics, for many years acting in partnership with his friend and Whig neighbour in Norfolk, Robert Walpole. His oratorical skills in the House of Lords were notoriously poor but he held a series of prominent diplomatic and government offices. Under Queen Anne he negotiated the Barrier Treaty with the Dutch in 1709–10, and was one of the eighteen regents appointed following her death in 1714. Townshend served as secretary of state for the Northern Department in 1714–16 and 1721–30, was appointed president of the Council in 1720 and made a knight of the Garter in July 1724. From 1725 he clashed repeatedly with Walpole, and eventually resigned in 1730, suffering from ill health and increasingly outmanoeuvred and estranged from his long-term friend and brother-in-law. Retirement to Raynham gave him a new lease of life as an agricultural innovator, earning him the nickname ‘Turnip Townshend’.

The portrait is a pendant to that of Townshend’s brother Roger (RN61). The pose and clothing are also similar to a 1690 portrait of Townshend by Kneller (National Portrait Gallery, NPG 1363), which may have inspired it. That portrait, formerly at Raynham Hall, was sold at the Townshend Heirlooms sale in 1904.1 Here, Townshend’s soft features and twisted neckcloth are more reminiscent of Michael Dahl, to whom the portrait was assigned by Oliver Millar, during a visit to Raynham in 1995. Facially, RN1 is also close to a portrait by Dahl painted around the same time (RN7), although there are certain differences in handling.

Michael Dahl, Swedish by birth, was trained in Sweden by the court portrait painter David Ehrenstrahl, before moving to London in 1682, where he spent time briefly in the studio of Godfrey Kneller. Following a sojourn in Rome, Dahl returned to England, where he established a successful portrait business, initially in the court circle of Prince George of Denmark. A prolific artist, Dahl was by the early decades of the eighteenth century Kneller’s principal rival in society and court portraiture. He died in London on 20 October 1743 and was buried in St James’s, Piccadilly.

by Amy Lim


Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, ed. Rev. Edmund Farrer, vol. 2, Norwich : Jarrold and Sons, 1928, vol. 2, p. 227, no. 19, illus. opp. p. 224 (‘CHARLES, 2ND VISCOUNT TOWNSHEND’)

Paul Mellon Centre Archive, Oliver Millar, 'Notes on a Visit to Raynham Hall', ONM/1/22, 8 April 1995, p. 19


  1. Townshend Heirlooms sale, Christie’s, London, 5 March 1904 (26), bought by Colnaghi and sold to the National Portrait Gallery.


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    Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend (1675–1738)

    follower of Michael Dahl, c.1700