attributed to George Knapton, Thomas Townshend, afterwards 1st Viscount Sydney (1733–1800)

Photo courtesy of Tom St Aubyn (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
Thomas Townshend, afterwards 1st Viscount Sydney (1733–1800)
The Red Saloon
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 93 cm, Overall width: 70 cm
attributed to George Knapton
Catalogue Number
  • Lettered bottom right in yellow paint: ‘Thos: Townshend/ Junr: Esqr. Ao. 1750/ created Ld. Sydney 1783’


The portrait depicts Thomas Townshend, 1st Viscount Sydney (1733–1800), eldest son of the politician Thomas Townshend, who was the second son of Charles Townshend, 2nd Viscount Townshend (1675–1738), and Albinia (1713/14–1739), daughter of Colonel John Selwyn (1688–1751). Thomas was educated at Eton and entered Clare College, Cambridge in 1750, the year in which this portrait was painted. Indeed, the portrait may have been commissioned to commemorate the start of his university career, alluded to perhaps by the books to the right-hand side of the composition. On 19 May 1760, he married Elizabeth (1736–1826), daughter of Richard Powys of Hintlesham, Suffolk (c.1707–1743) and his wife Mary Brudenell (1717–1813) with whom he had twelve children. Elizabeth served as lady of the bedchamber to Queen Charlotte from 1791 to 1818.

Like many Townshends before him, ‘Tommy’ Townshend, on being elected MP for Whitchurch in Hampshire, embarked on a distinguished political career. His positions included clerk of the household of the Prince of Wales, clerk of the Green Cloth, secretary at war and secretary of state for Home Affairs. In 1783 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Sydney of Chislehurst and, after he was responsible as home secretary in Pitt’s government for devising a plan to settle convicts at Botany Bay in Australia, the new settlement was renamed Sydney in his honour. In 1789 he was created Viscount Sydney. 

Thanks to fortuitous inheritance, Lord Sydney amassed considerable wealth following his retirement from government, which was supplemented by the sinecure of the chief justiceship in Eyre and his office as deputy lieutenant of Kent. He died on 30 June 1800 at his estate at Frognal and was buried on 3 July at St Nicholas Church in Chislehurst. There is a monument to Sydney and his brother Charles Townshend in the Scadbury Chapel of the church, which describes Sydney’s ‘unblemished Integrity, and his Zeal in the Service of his King and Country’. He was succeeded by his son John Thomas as 2nd Viscount Sydney (1764–1831).

The identity of the artist is unknown but there are strong similarities between RN11 and the male portraits of George Knapton (1698–1778), including William Wentworth, 2nd Earl of Strafford (Parliamentary Art Collection, WOA 5398) and the various members of the Society of Dilettanti, notably Bourchier Wray and Sir Francis Dashwood, dating from the mid-1740s.1 Trained as an artist under Jonathan Richardson, Knapton was himself a member of the Society of Dilettanti. He was popular in royal, aristocratic and political circles, acting from 1765 as surveyor and keeper of the King’s Pictures. In 1751 he was commissioned to paint an ambitous group portrait of the family of Frederick, Prince of Wales (Royal Collection, RCIN 405741).

by Emily Knight and Martin Postle


Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, ed. Rev. Edmund Farrer, vol. 2, Norwich : Jarrold and Sons, 1928, vol. 2, p. 231, no. 33 (‘THOMAS TOWNSHEND, 1ST VISCOUNT SYDNEY’)


  1. See Bruce Redford, ‘“Seria Ludo”: George Knapton’s Portraits of the Society of Dilettanti’, The British Art Journal, vol. 3, no. 1, Autumn 2001, pp. 56–68.


Related catalogue items from Raynham Hall

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    Review of the Norfolk Militia

    David Morier, c.1759–63

  • Castle Howard Raynham Hall

    Colonel the Honourable Roger Townshend (1677–1709)

    Michael Dahl, c.1695–1700

  • Castle Howard Raynham Hall

    ? Audrey, Lady Townshend (1732–1781)

    circle of George Knapton, ? c. 1746