International Museum Day: 30 Objects – Joshua Reynolds

10 May 2017

For International Museum Day on 18 May our Head of Collections, Alice, has chosen her top 30 objects from Mount Stuart’s Collections which we’ll bring to you throughout the Month. Ranging from books, furniture, silver-work, paintings and documentation from hundreds of years of Stuart family life, this barely scratches the surface of our Collections so make sure to plan your visit and experience it for yourself! This week our Bute Fellow, Caitlin, offers up a portrait of the 3rd Earl of Bute by Joshua Reynolds for consideration.

John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-1792), an important Enlightenment-era figure with a colourful history and an invaluable legacy. In addition to being the first Scottish-born Prime Minister, and the notorious ‘favourite’ of King George III, the earl was also an important and prolific patron of the arts and sciences. He is the founder of the Bute Collection, one of the foremost private collections of art and artefacts in the UK, which is today preserved at Mount Stuart.

Painted in 1773, this portrait of Bute is one of several fine portraits of the earl in the Bute Collection. It was the second portrait of Bute produced by Sir Joshua Reynolds, the first president of the Royal Academy, and most celebrated portraitist of the day. An earlier portrait (also at Mount Stuart), a double portrait of Bute and his secretary, Charles Jenkinson, 1st Earl of Liverpool, was painted a decade earlier, at the height of the earl’s controversial career, when First Lord the Treasury.  At this time, he was much hated by the public largely because of his rapid rise to power following the succession of his former pupil George III. Indeed, during this period, Bute lived in constant fear of attacks from the London mob.

When this later portrait was painted, Reynolds’s assistant, James Northcote remarked that the earl “must have found it very different from the time when he was forced to have bruisers behind his coach to protect him, for now he comes in a chair without any servants and often walks on foot in his surtout [greatcoat] without any state.” By this point, the earl had been retired from political office for 10 years, and lived in relative seclusion at Luton Hoo, his country seat in Bedfordshire. It was here that he amassed what would become one of the largest and most valuable art collections in Georgian Britain. However, rather than depicting Bute as a retired man of learning, Reynolds has shown him in his public capacity, dressed in the robes of the prestigious Order of the Garter.

The portrait, as well as the original costume, and several of the masterpieces from the 3rd Earl’s collection, can currently be seen in Art of Power: Masterpieces from the Bute Collection, an exciting new collaborative exhibition, split across two venues, The Hunterian, Glasgow and Mount Stuart. Book tickets for the exhibition here.