Portrait of Col. Hon Alexander Abercromby, Coldstream Guards circa 1805
A very well executed portrait of Colonel, the Honourable Alexander Abercromby who was the fourth son of Sir Ralph Abercromby of Tullibody who fell at Aboukir, Eygpt in 1801.
Alexander was born on 4th March 1784 and was extensively involved in the Peninsula campaign receiving the Army Gold Cross and was made a Knight of the Tower and Sword. Alexander fought at Waterloo where he was Assistant Quartermaster-General and was wounded. He was subsequently made a Companion of the Bath for Waterloo and became MP for Clackmannanshire in 1817-18. Alexander died 27th August 1853.
Along with Gainsborough, Romney and Reynolds, Hoppner (1758-1810) was one of the leading portraitists in late eighteenth-century Britain, and was the principal rival to Sir Thomas Lawrence to be the best British painter of the early nineteenth century. Born in London on 25 April 1758, he entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1775, where he won a Gold Medal in 1782. His rapid rise, however, was accompanied by rumours (never denied by Hoppner) that he was the illegitimate son of the future King George III, a story which sprung from his mother’s position as a Lady in Waiting to the Princess of Wales, George’s mother. No strong evidence has ever been discovered to support the allegation, but it is true that in his education and early career Hoppner benefited from a considerable degree of royal sponsorship. He was brought up as a child of the Chapel Royal, tutored in the Royal Library where King George paid great attention to his progress, and finally presented with an allowance from the royal purse in order that he might establish himself as a painter.
This exquisite portrait was painted in c.1805, and was thus painted at the pinnacle of his career. It displays the easy freedom and painterliness that set Hoppner apart from his contemporaries, and already shows the bold brushwork and harmonized tones and colours that are seen in his later works. It is an emotionally engaging and naturalistic image, and is evidence of the impending break from Reynolds’ occasionally distant Grand Manner.
By the late 1780s Hoppner was a regular contributor to the Royal Academy exhibitions and had established himself as a fashionable portrait painter. In 1789 he succeeded Reynolds in his appointment as painter to the Prince of Wales, many of whose circle he painted. In short, he seemed destined to become Reynolds’ successor as the leading portraitist of his age.
However, the sudden and triumphant rise of Thomas Lawrence had a deep impact on Hoppner’s early career. In the Royal Academy exhibition of 1790 Hoppner’s two entries, thoughtful and highly accomplished portraits of the Horneck sisters, were dramatically overshadowed by two of Lawrence’s greatest full-lengths – Queen Charlotte (National Gallery, London), and the actress Elizabeth Farren (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). As a result, Hoppner felt obliged throughout the 1790s to step out of Lawrence’s shadow, exhibiting, for example, an impressive fourteen paintings in the Academy exhibitions of 1791 and 1792, of whom ten were Royal sitters. Hoppner continued to attract important clients and great praise for the remainder of his career, but declining health dogged his final years. He died in 1810 after a long illness.