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Lord Charles Spencer (1740-1820), Second son of the Third Duke of Marlborough

Joshua Reynolds

Artwork Details

Lord Charles Spencer (1740-1820), Second son of the Third Duke of Marlborough
Joshua Reynolds
oil on canvas
34 5/8 in. x 28 5/8 in. ( 87.9 cm x 72.7 cm )
Museum purchase made possible by the W. Hawkins Ferry Fund


March 28, 2009
Sir Joshua Reynolds was one of the most fashionable and successful English portrait artists of the eighteenth century. During his illustrious career he painted most of the great social and political leaders of his time, defining for many our understanding of the look of English power from that period. Among these elites numbered Lord Charles Spencer (1740–1820), depicted here as a refined young man, who was the second son of one of England’s preeminent landholders. The canvas dates from a fertile point in Reynolds’ career, when commercial success coincided with artistic experimentation as Reynolds moved toward a more classicizing style that emphasized the volume and plasticity of form over the Venetian-inspired chromaticism that had characterized his earlier work. This portrait is clearly unfinished and appears to be the abandoned original for a finished work of similar dimensions still in the collection of the Duke of Marlborough. Its unfinished state allows us to savor better the fruits of Reynolds’ skill that are often lost in finished works, such as the subtle harmonies of color and the fluid brushwork that preserves the artist’s confident touch.

Subject Matter:

This unfinished half-length portrait represents Lord Charles Spencer, second son of the third Duke of Marlborough, leaning against a stone ledge in a pose of casual refinement. While the sitter's face is constructed from small, careful brushstrokes and is defined by smooth gradations of light, his garments and hands are painted with great fluidity and the forms are fashioned through dramatically juxtaposed passages of color and shadow. The subtle sophistication of the painting--evinced by the expertly balanced tonalities and the skillful evocation of depth--contribute powerfully to the impression of relaxed elegance in the sitter.

Physical Description:

A young man leans against a stone ledge and gazes to his right. He wears a slate blue jacket with a white collar and cuffs and has a matching mantle. He casually hooks a finger of his left hand in the hilt of a sword that hangs at his waist. A plain stone column immediately behind the sitter creates a near silhouette of the shadowed side of his face. A hazy sky fills the background.

Usage Rights:

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