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

Photo courtesy of Tom St Aubyn (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend (1675–1738)
The Red Saloon
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 123 cm, Overall width: 99.5 cm
Michael Dahl (1659-1743)
Catalogue Number
  • Inscribed top left in yellow paint: ‘VISCT. TOWNSHEND.’


Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend (1675–1738) was a politician, diplomat and agricultural innovator. He was the eldest of three sons of Horatio Townshend, 1st Viscount Townshend (bap. 1630–1687) and his second wife, Mary (d. 1685). Townshend, who succeeded his father in the House of Lords in 1687, matriculated at King’s College, Cambridge in 1691 and spent time travelling abroad on his Grand Tour between 1694 and 1697. In 1696 he married Elizabeth Pelham, second daughter of Thomas Pelham, 1st Baron Pelham. Elizabeth died in 1711 and by 1713 Townshend had married the sister of his political ally Sir Robert Walpole, Dorothy Walpole (1686–1726; see RN70). An influential Whig politician, he was given by George I the Cabinet position of secretary of state for the Northern Department (1714–16 and 1721–30). On his retirement in 1730 he returned to Raynham and became absorbed in agricultural innovations such as the Norfolk four-course rotation system, which earned him the nickname ‘Turnip Townshend’. 

Townshend was painted by Kneller in c.1690 (National Portrait Gallery, NPG 1363), in c.1704 wearing his viscount’s coronation robes (NPG 3623) and in c.1715 in his viscount’s parliamentary robes (Houghton Hall, Norfolk). Although the direct dark-eyed gaze of the sitter in RN7 bears similarities to Kneller’s first portrait of Townshend, and other portraits by Kneller of around 1700, such as Charles FitzRoy, 2nd Duke of Grafton (National Portrait Gallery, NPG 3210), it has a number of qualities that indicate the work of his main rival, Michael Dahl, to whom RN1, also of the 2nd Viscount, has likewise been attributed. Dahl was a Swedish portrait painter who came to England in 1682 but left to travel on the Continent between 1684 and 1689, returning shortly after William and Mary had come to the throne in 1689. The position of the left arm and hand, the abundant purple satin drapery, jagged-edged shadowy rock and antique backdrop in the present portrait are comparable to those in Dahl’s virtuoso self-portrait made shortly after his move to England in 1691 (National Portrait Gallery, NPG 3822). The twisted necktie is likewise a distinctive motif used by Dahl, such as in his portrait of Christoffer Leijoncrona (1662–1710), the Swedish minister in London (Södra Blasieholmshamnen, Stockholm, NM 2743). The Italianate rotunda pictured in the background is reminiscent of the Temple of Vesta in Rome and appears to have been used by Dahl as his standard backdrop for Grand Tour portraits: a portrait of John, 2nd Duke of Montagu, in the Buccleuch collection at Boughton House, Northamptonshire, is of a comparable formula, complete with twisted necktie, voluminous shining drapery and identical antique building. It is likely, therefore, that the present portrait was commissioned to commemorate Townshend’s return from the Grand Tour in 1697.

The design of the frame, with its distinctive square corners, suggests that the portrait was possibly part of a set intended for the reconfigured Belisarius Room at Raynham, since it matches the architectural features there.

by Emily Burns


Paul Mellon Centre Archive, Oliver Millar, 'Notes on a Visit to Raynham Hall', ONM/1/22, 8 April 1995, p. 23

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