Charles Jervas: A Memorandum of 1733 at Raynham Hall
Essay by Amy Lim
In the archives at Raynham Hall is an extraordinary document: an artist’s memorandum of exceptional length and detail and a receipt (no. 353), presented in 1733 by Charles Jervas (c.1675–1739) to Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend (1675–1738). Written in Jervas’s elegant, looping script, on the right-hand side of the memorandum’s folded sheet it itemises eighteen portraits painted over a ten-year period: originals, copies, alterations and frames, with the prices and intended recipients carefully noted. On the left, accompanying memoranda flesh out the details. The accompanying receipt, dated 27 June 1733, acknowledges payment for eight of the listed paintings. With the renovations at Raynham finished and his family complete, Townshend was not likely to commission further portraits, and the memorandum represents Jervas’s final reckoning after a decade of work. The document offers many insights into Jervas’s working practices as well as the ways in which this aristocratic and politically prominent family used portraiture to cement their family, business and political networks. The close ties between two prominent Norfolk Whig families, the Townshends and the Walpoles, are well known; their political stars rose together and Charles Townshend’s second wife, Dorothy (1686–1726), was Robert Walpole’s sister. However, also of great importance to Townshend were the brothers of his first wife, Elizabeth Pelham, Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle (1693–1768), and Henry Pelham (1694–1754), later the prime minister. Charles Jervas was patronised by all three families and owed his position as principal painter to the king to their influence. His work for the Townshends in the 1720s and 1730s is partly the product of, and partly a facilitator of, this political, familial and cultural network.
The 1720s marked the culmination of Charles Townshend’s political career, when he led England’s foreign policy and, with Robert Walpole and the Duke of Newcastle, dominated the cabinet. Townshend’s political alliance with his brothers-in-law deteriorated over the decade and came to an end in May 1730 when his allies-turned-adversaries effectively forced him into retirement. Townshend and Walpole never spoke again. The decade was also notable for several personal and family milestones. Townshend was awarded the coveted Order of the Garter in 1724. His children from his first wife all married: Elizabeth, in 1722 to Charles, Lord Cornwallis; Charles, in 1723 to Audrey Harrison; William, in 1725 to Henrietta Paulet; and Thomas, in 1730 to Albinia Selwyn. Townshend’s family continued to grow as Dorothy gave birth annually until her death from smallpox in 1726. These are the characters that populate Jervas’s memorandum and the events that precipitated the commissions. Other than Lord and Lady Townshend, of the ten subjects or recipients of portraits mentioned in the memorandum, only two were not family (Lord Scarborough and Stephen Poyntz) but they were both political associates of Townshend. In any case, there was no division between family, politics and business: just the opposite. Marriages were contracted to enhance social and political connections, and private ties of kinship facilitated public co-operation and advancement – at least until they turned sour. Meanwhile, Townshend also undertook an extensive programme of rebuilding at Raynham Hall, which lasted from 1726 to 1732. This intense period of political and domestic activity was the cause of a burst of artistic patronage, marking his position in society and the alliances that underpinned it.
Portraits were typically commissioned to mark personal milestones and significant occasions such as betrothals and the award of honours and offices. The award of the Garter to Charles Townshend on 9 July 1724 triggered the first of many commemorative portraits. Jervas noted in the memorandum, ‘Immediately after the installation Ceremony, my Lady order’d a Picture of my Lord to be prepar’d at length in the Garter robes’. This was billed as ‘a Copy, but to be made an Original at length when she had got my Lord to sit for it.’ Jervas evidently based the face on another portrait, as Townshend never did manage to find the time, ‘my Ld not having sat’. The memorandum earmarks several Garter portraits for family and friends, with a subtle indicator of the importance of the recipient denoted by whether they received an original or a copy. Henry Pelham only warranted a copy, priced at twenty guineas, but Lord Scarborough received an original at forty guineas. Richard Lumley, 2nd Earl of Scarborough and a cabinet colleague, was installed as a Knight of the Garter on the same day as Townshend. His full-length Garter portrait by Jervas still hangs at Raynham (RN73), and they evidently celebrated their new status with an exchange of portraits. The giving and receiving of portraits was a form of gift exchange that also created a visible record of friends and family. Such portraits would typically be hung in the public rooms of a house, where visitors would observe the network of ancestral and contemporary alliances that surrounded their host, often complemented by royal portraits. Gift-giving also implied reciprocity and obligation, this ‘instrumental friendship’ being the normative model of friendship in the early modern period.1
One of the portraits was commissioned for an explicitly political purpose. Items 11 and 12 are ‘Lord Townshend in Garter Robes at Length for Mr Poyntz for the Congress (copy)’ and ‘A rich gold frame for Do’. Stephen Poyntz, under Townshend’s patronage, served as one of the plenipotentiaries to the Congress of Soissons, a diplomatic conference of European powers that took place from June 1728 to July 1729. Townshend’s full-length Garter portrait stood in for his presence at the negotiations but it was also part of a power-play among the delegates through the display of material wealth. Poyntz complained about the ‘Vast Expence we have been at in order to make the same Appearance here as the Ministers of other Powers’ and in this context it should be noted that while the Congress only merited a copy rather an original portrait of Townshend, the ‘rich gold frame’, at the enormous cost of fourteen pounds, must have been spectacular.2
Family members dominate the sitters and recipients listed in Jervas’s memorandum although, as we have seen, family was integral to, rather than separate from, business and political networks. Mrs Mary Selwyn, for whom ‘Lord Townshend half Length in Garter robes’ (no. 9) was destined, was the wife of Colonel John Selwyn (1688–1751), Townshend’s banker; their daughter Albinia (1713/14–1739) married Thomas Townshend (1701–1780) in 1730. That this marriage was rather a step up for the Selwyns is evident in Mary Selwyn’s anxiety to reassure Lord Townshend that her request for only a half-length portrait of him was not an intended slight, since ‘she thought of none but half length pictures for her best room.’ Henrietta Paulet (1705–1755) married William Townshend (1702–1738) in 1725, becoming the ‘Mistress Coll [Colonel] Townshend’ of nos 5, 6 and 10. The receipt of her parents-in-law’s portraits, and the sitting for her own portrait (probably RN58), marked her integration into the family. Lady Cornwallis, née Elizabeth Townshend (1703–1785), received a copy of her stepmother Dorothy’s portrait. The Duke of Newcastle and Horace Walpole (Whig diplomat and brother of Robert) also received full-length portraits of Lord and Lady Townshend in coronation robes (nos 1, 2 and 3). Walpole, however, was not yet ready to take delivery of his, Jervas noting that the portraits ‘are still in my hands to be ready at his call when his house in the country is furnish’d’. Edward Bottoms has described how Townshend’s portrait eventually hung ‘over the Chimney piece in the best bed chamber’ at Walpole’s Norfolk home, Wolterton Hall, one of a considered selection of royal and family portraits, most of which were by Jervas.3 Likewise, the renovations at Raynham Hall were the impetus for a number of the portraits mentioned in Jervas’s memorandum. Raynham became Townshend’s retreat and focus after his political exile. As the building work neared completion Townshend’s thoughts turned to its interior furnishings, including a roll-call of important family portraits. Full-length copies were commissioned of Baron Vere of Tilbury and Sir Roger Townshend (nos 13 and 14) and the original head of Baron Vere received ‘a rich gold frame’ (no. 17; see RN30). Vere formed the centrepiece of the suite of admirals that lined the saloon. Meanwhile, ‘Lord Townshend’s mother half length by Sir Peter Lely’ (no. 15) was ‘made into a full length and lined’. Buyers at the Townshend Heirlooms sale of March 1904 at Christie’s, London, where it formed lot 72, were not informed of this joint authorship.4
Although Jervas was happy to copy, extend and finish portraits by other artists – he also completed an unfinished Kneller portrait of Lord Townshend (no. 16) – his pricing demonstrates that there was a clear demarcation between originals and copies. Originals were precisely double the cost of copies, at forty guineas for a full-length and twenty guineas for a half-length, as noted earlier. Jervas kept track of which commissions were which (or, in the case of nos 13 and 14, a mixture of the two) so that he could bill accordingly. He helpfully explained the breakdown of costs, ‘according to the practice of all Painters’, in which a head is charged at ten guineas (five for a copy) and a full-length figure at thirty guineas (fifteen for a copy). Jervas’s prices were the standard rate for a top-rank portrait painter but, although he succeeded Kneller as principal painter, he could not command Kneller’s premium prices. Kneller had charged sixty guineas for a full-length and thirty for a half-length. Like Kneller, Jervas employed studio assistants to execute copies and draperies. His memorandum clearly refers to one such drapery painter when it notes: ‘Mrs Selwyn knows that Lady Townshend borrowed a rich Peticoat that had been the Queens of her for the Painter to put to her picture in order’.
For all his careful tracking of originals and copies, Jervas did not bill Townshend for everything he had supplied to the family. He noted several instances in which he either undercharged or did not charge at all for work done. As well as charging for the extensions to old portraits as only copies (nos 13, 14 and 15), he cited previous discounts: a half-length of Lady Townshend ‘which I never charg’d at all’, later made into a full-length, ‘out of pure respect to the family . . . also gratis’,5 and ‘the Children’s great Picture with 7 figures, I took but half price for’, pointing out ‘all this unask’d’. These discounts ranged across the whole period that Jervas was working for the Townshends, from c.1723–4 (the children’s picture) to 1732 (making Lady Townshend’s half- into a full-length). A significant patron like Townshend, especially one who was networked into other important patrons, was worth cultivating. Jervas owed his royal appointment to the combined efforts of Townshend, Walpole and Newcastle. Townshend was with the king in Hanover when Kneller died in October 1723 and lobbied on Jervas’s behalf, but it was Newcastle who was the driving force. Walpole wrote to Townshend, ‘The duke of Newcastle is at Claremont and desires me to give you his thanks for all your letters and beggs you will not forgett Jervas the painter. He has it much at heart to be dispatch’d.’6 Although Walpole had patronised Jervas for some years before this, there is no firm evidence of Townshend employing Jervas before 1723. Kneller’s death forced Townshend to look elsewhere and it was probably the recommendation of his brothers-in-law that led him to employ Jervas. In matters of artistic patronage, as in politics, family networks were highly influential and Jervas reaped the benefits.
The decade from 1723 to 1733 was the 2nd Viscount Townshend’s busiest, politically and domestically, as he played a central role on the national political stage and carried out substantial renovations at Raynham Hall. It is these two factors working together that gave rise to the extensive body of work he commissioned from Jervas, some, but by no means all, of which is detailed in this memorandum. It shows how he used portraiture to strengthen and demonstrate his political and family allegiances, past and present, through the exchange and display of a carefully chosen hierarchy of originals and copies, full-lengths and half-lengths. As well as its useful information about studio practices and pricing, the memorandum also gives a sense of how Jervas navigated the sometimes choppy waters of patronage: with discretion, deference and a few timely discounts. He must have feared being caught in the fallout between the families who had been such important patrons to him but their ongoing patronage suggests that Jervas handled the crisis with astute professionalism.
Cedric Brown, Friendship and its Discourses in the Seventeenth Century, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 2–3.1
British Library, Newcastle MSS, Add. MS 32757, f. 516.2
Edward Bottoms, ‘Charles Jervas, Sir Robert Walpole and the Norfolk Whigs’, Apollo, vol. 145, no. 420, February 1997, p. 47; for the hang at Wolterton and Raynham see also Andrew Moore, ‘Hanging the Family Portraits’, in Andrew Moore and Charlotte Crawley, eds, Family and Friends: A Regional Survey of British Portraiture, Norwich: Norfolk Museums Service; London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1992, pp. 30–8.3
‘SIR P. LELY./ 72 PORTRAIT OF MARY ASHE, daughter of Sir Joseph Ashe, of Twickenham, second wife of Horatio Lord Townshend. Whole length, standing to the front. In brown dress with white sleeves, and blue cloak; in a landscape, pointing to a spaniel on a rock by her side 94 in. by 57 in.’, Catalogue of the Townshend Heirlooms comprising Important Pictures by Old Masters and Family Portraits from Raynham Hall, Norfolk, Christie’s, Manson & Woods, [London], Saturday, 5 March 1904.4
This picture of Lady Townshend is now at Audley End, having passed through the Cornwallis family; the extension can be clearly discerned. I am grateful to Dr Peter Moore of English Heritage for his help in identifying this painting5
William Coxe, Memoirs of the Life and Administration of Sir Robert Walpole, Earl of Orford, 3 vols, London: T. Cadell & W. Davies, 1798, vol. 2, p. 290.6
- by Amy Lim
- 20 November 2020
- House Essay
- CC BY-NC International 4.0
- Cite as
- Amy Lim, "Charles Jervas: A Memorandum of 1733 at Raynham Hall", Art and the Country House, https://doi.org/10.17658/ACH/RNE570