The children of the third Duke of Dorset were painted in the summer of 1796 at Knole, the Sackville family seat. They are (left to right): Lady Mary Sackville (1792–1864), later Countess of Plymouth and Countess Amherst; the Duke's only son, Lord Middlesex (1793–1815), later the fourth Duke of Dorset; and Lady Elizabeth Sackville (1795–1870), later Countess De La Warr and Baroness Buckhurst. The picture was shown at the Royal Academy in 1797 under the title "Portraits of a nobleman's children."
The children are Lady Mary Sackville (1792–1864), later Countess of Plymouth, still later Countess Amherst; George John Frederick Sackville (1793–1815), Lord Middlesex; and Lady Elizabeth Sackville (1795–1870), later Countess de la Warr and Baroness Buckhurst. Their father, John, third Duke of Dorset, commissioned the picture, which was painted in July 1796 at Knole, the family seat in Kent; the duke paid Hoppner 105 pounds for it. The duchess had sat to Hoppner the year before (Sackville Collection, Knole), while the artist would paint George, by then the fourth duke, again several years later (location unknown). Finally married at forty-five, the third duke had three children and died when his son was five. He had earlier enjoyed considerable notoriety and the company of many mistresses, the Countess of Derby (MMA 49.7.57) and Nancy Parsons (MMA 45.59.3) among them. The fourth Duke was killed in a fall from his horse at age twenty-one. The picture passed from his elder sister to his younger.
Vita Sackville-West, in her history of Knole (1949), recounted a story told her by her grandfather: "[He] used to show me the baby girl, telling me that while Hoppner was seeking for a pose for his picture a grievance arose between the two little girls because one had shoes and the other had not, and that on Lord Middlesex taking his sister into his arms for consolation, Hoppner rushed at them exclaiming that he could not improve upon the charm of this accidental pose. I think this story has a convincing ring about it. Certainly it was the only anecdote which my grandfather had to tell of any picture in the house; usually he did not know a Hoppner from a Vandyck, a Kneller from a Gainsborough. He said that he had the story straight from his mother, Lady Elizabeth, the sulky baby of Hoppner’s picture."
The boy’s pose is based on Reynolds's portrait of John Crewe, titled Portrait of a Boy in the Character of Harry the Eighth, exhibited at the Royal Academy about twenty years earlier and engraved in mezzotint by John Raphael Smith. Hoppner probably would have seen both. He may also have remembered Reynolds’s source, Remigius van Leemput’s copy of Holbein’s Whitehall mural of 1537, which had been destroyed in a fire in 1698. Leemput’s copy, in the Royal Collection, had been engraved. The Sackvilles were of ancient lineage and connected by marriage to Anne Boleyn, the second wife of Henry VIII and the mother of Elizabeth I. The connection, if understood, would presumably have been appreciated.
[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, Knole, Sevenoaks, Kent (1796–d. 1799); his son, George John Frederick Sackville, 4th Duke of Dorset, Knole (1799–d. 1815); his sister, Lady Mary Sackville, Countess of Plymouth, later Countess Amherst, Knole (1815–d. 1864); her sister, Lady Elizabeth Sackville, Countess De La Warr and Baroness Buckhurst, Knole (1864–d. 1870); her younger son, Hon. Mortimer Sackville-West, later 1st Baron Sackville, Knole (1870–d. 1888); Barons Sackville, Knole (1888–1928); Charles John Sackville-West, 4th Baron Sackville, Knole (1928–29; sold through Spink to Lamont); Thomas W. Lamont, New York (1929–d. 1948; life interest to his widow, Florence Corliss Lamont, 1948–d. 1952)
London. Royal Academy. 1797, no. 149 (as "Portraits of a nobleman's children").
London. Grafton Galleries. "Fair Children," 1895, no. 159 (as "George John Frederick Sackville, Fourth Duke of Dorset, with his Sisters, Lady Mary Sackville, afterwards Countess Amherst, and Lady Elizabeth Sackville, afterwards Countess De La Warr," lent by Lord Sackville).
Monthly Mirror (June 1797), p. 344 [see Ref. McKay and Roberts 1909], describes the picture as "well composed, the contrast free and bold; the children much after Sir Joshua's manner, but rather flat, from the light being generally diffused over the figures".
H. P. K. Skipton. John Hoppner. London, 1905, pp. 63, 82–84, 171, dates it [in error] 1797; calls it one of Hoppner's finest studies of childhood, and suggests that the landscape was "very likely drawn from nature at Knole".
Lionel Sackville West. Knole House: Its State Rooms, Pictures and Antiquities. new authorized ed. Sevenoaks, 1906, pp. 83–84, ill. (color, frontispiece), calls it the chief feature of the first private sitting room on the ground floor, and identifies the landscape as taken in the Park near the Sevenoaks lodge.
W[illiam]. Roberts. Sir William Beechey, R.A. London, 1907, p. 152.
William McKay and W[illiam]. Roberts. John Hoppner, R.A. London, 1909, pp. 225, 317.
W[illiam]. Roberts. The Masterpieces of Hoppner (1758–1810). London, 1912, ill. p. 24.
William McKay and W[illiam]. Roberts. Supplement and Index to John Hoppner, R.A. London, 1914, p. 45, mention a mezzotint by L. Busière after the portrait.
"A Child Portrait by Hoppner." International Studio 75 (June 1922), p. 207.
"Lamont Buys Hoppner for Record Price." Art News 27 (July 13, 1929), pp. 1–2, reports the sale by Spink to Lamont.
Louise Gordon-Stables. "London Letter." Art News 27 (July 13, 1929), p. 18.
Charles J. Phillips. History of the Sackville Family. London, 1930, vol. 2, pp. 191–92, 266, 408, 437, ill. opp. p. 266, lists it among portraits added to the collection at Knole by the third duke of Dorset, recording a payment of £105 to Hoppner on August 25, 1796 from the duke's account with Messrs. Drummond & Co.
V[ictoria]. Sackville-West. Knole and the Sackvilles. London, 1949, pp. vii, 193, 196, ill. opp. p. 189, claims that Hoppner stayed nine or ten days at Knole painting the three children, relates a family story about their poses, and states that the portrait was sold toward the payment of succession duties, giving the date [in error] as 1930.
A. Hyatt Mayor. "Children Are What We Make Them." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15 (March 1957), ill. p. 185.
John Human Wilson. "The Life and Work of John Hoppner (1758–1810)." PhD diss., Courtauld Institute of Art, London, 1992, vol. 1, p. 196–98; vol. 2, fig. 58, compares this canvas to Goya's portraits of children.
Andrew Montgomery. "Thanks to the National Trust." Country Life 187 (July 8, 1993), ill. p. 90 (in an interior view of Knole).
Katharine Baetjer. "British Portraits in The Metropolitan Museum of Art." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Summer 1999), p. 52–55, ill. (color, overall and details).
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 189–92, no. 93, ill. (color).
C. Essenhigh Corke, of Sevenoaks, published an auto type of the picture (McKay and Roberts 1909). L. Busière produced a color mezzotint (19 3/8 x 15 1/2 in.) in 1914 (McKay and Roberts 1914).