Art/ Collection/ Art Object

George Capel, Viscount Malden (1757–1839), and Lady Elizabeth Capel (1755–1834)

Sir Joshua Reynolds (British, Plympton 1723–1792 London)
Oil on canvas
71 1/2 x 57 1/4 in. (181.6 x 145.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Henry S. Morgan, 1948
Accession Number:
Not on view
The sitters were the only children of William Anne Capel, fourth Earl of Essex, and his first wife, Frances, who died in 1759. Viscount Malden was educated at Cambridge and sat as a member of Parliament for various boroughs between 1779 and 1796. He took the name Coningsby upon the death of his grandmother in 1781, and succeeded his father as fifth Earl in 1799. Upon the death of his first wife, Sarah, in 1838, he married Catherine Stephens, a well-known actress and singer half his age. He had no children by either wife and was succeeded by the son of his half brother. He was a considerable supporter of the arts, patronizing many painters, including Turner and Landseer. His sister, Elizabeth, married John, third Baron Monson, in 1777, and the couple had two daughters and a son.

The commission for this portrait would have been regarded as an important one, and there were many sittings. Lord Malden and Lady Elizabeth sat for Reynolds sixteen times between them in the spring and early summer of 1767; Lord Malden also sat on April 19, 1768. The picture was commissioned by their grandmother, perhaps in connection with the boy’s tenth birthday. The composition is not entirely successful: the figure of the girl is large, she looks older than her age, and the angle of her face, seen from below, is an awkward one. Nevertheless, this would have been an attractive and popular subject, and the picture was engraved twice, by Charles Turner in 1817 (Mannings and Postle 2000, vol. 1, p. 119) and by R. B. Parkes in 1864 (see Engravings from the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A., London, n.d., vol. 5, no. 50). A copy of the work was included in the sale of the contents of Cassiobury Park (Knight, Frank & Rutley, June 15, 1922, no. 706, as by Reynolds; whereabouts unknown), and the earl gave a smaller copy to his son-in-law, Richard Ford, who married the earl's only child and natural daughter, Harriet Capel.

The 1992 treatment report notes scattered losses throughout as well as abrasion that particularly affects the figure of Lady Elizabeth, the flower garland, and the sky. The boy and the green vegetation are better preserved. There is evidence of extensive traction cracks, the surface is distorted, and the condition has been further compromised by an old wax lining.

[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]
Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed (lower right): George Visct. Malden & Lady Eliz. Capel only / Son and Daur. of the Earl of Essex by his first / wife Frances Daur. of Sr. Ch. Hanbury / Williams & Lady Frances Coningesby / Ld. Malden Ætat 10 / Ly. Eli[z.] Capel Ætat 13 / J. Reynolds Pinxt. / 1768.
the sitters' grandmother, Lady Frances Hanbury-Williams, née Coningsby (1767/68–d. 1781); the sitter, George Capel-Coningsby, Viscount Malden, later 5th Earl of Essex, Cassiobury Park, Watford, Hertfordshire (1781–d. 1839); his nephew, Arthur Algernon Capell, 6th Earl of Essex, Cassiobury Park (1839–d. 1892); George Devereux de Vere Capell, 7th Earl of Essex, Cassiobury Park (1892–95; sold through Christie's to Agnew); [Agnew, London, 1895–96; sold to Morgan]; J. Pierpont Morgan, London and New York (1896–d. 1913); J. P. Morgan, New York (1913–d. 1943); Henry S. Morgan, New York (1943–48)
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1878, no. 263 (lent by the Earl of Essex).

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," January 6–March 14, 1896, no. 121 (lent by J. Pierpont Morgan).

New York. M. Knoedler & Co. "Collection of J. P. Morgan: Exhibition of Paintings for the Benefit of the Citizens Committee for the Army and Navy, Inc.," November 23–December 11, 1943, no. 25 (lent by J. P. Morgan).

Art Gallery of Toronto. "Loan Exhibition of Great Paintings in Aid of Allied Merchant Seamen," February 4–March 5, 1944, no. 56 (lent by M. Knoedler & Co.).

Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 39.

Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 39.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "AngloMania: Tradition and Transgression in British Fashion," May 3–September 4, 2006, unnumbered cat. (p. 154).

William Cotton. A Catalogue of the Portraits Painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Knt., P.R.A. London, 1857, p. 49, lists the portrait of Viscount Malden and Elizabeth Capel at Cassiobury, engraved by C. Turner.

Charles Robert Leslie and Tom Taylor. Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds. London, 1865, vol. 1, p. 282, record sittings for the two children in April 1767.

Frederic G. Stephens. English Children as Painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds. London, 1884, p. 81.

Algernon Graves and William Vine Cronin. A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds P.R.A. Vol. 2, London, 1899, p. 608, give an account of the sitters and a history of the picture; note that both children sat to Reynolds in 1767 and that Lord Malden also sat in 1768; suggest that the two payments (May 17, 1768, Lady Frances Coningby [sic], £175, and May 1768, Lord Essex's two children, £157 10s) indicate either that Reynolds transposed the figures or that there was a second picture.

Walter Armstrong. Sir Joshua Reynolds, First President of the Royal Academy. London, 1900, p. 218, records a sketch for the painting that belonged to the late Sir Francis Clare Ford.

A. L. Baldry. Sir Joshua Reynolds. London, [1903], p. xxv.

W[illiam]. Roberts. "Mr. J. Pierpont Morgan's Pictures: The Early English School. I." Connoisseur 16 (October 1906), p. 70, ill.

W[illiam]. Roberts in Pictures in the Collection of J. Pierpont Morgan at Princes Gate & Dover House, London. Vol. 1, English School. London, 1907, unpaginated, ill.

"The Cassiobury Collection." The Studio 83 (1922), p. 255.

Ellis K. Waterhouse. Reynolds. London, 1941, p. 58.

Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 8 (Summer 1949), ill. p. 25.

James Parker. "A Staircase by Grinling Gibbons." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15 (June 1957), pp. 233, 236, ill.

Malcolm Cormack. "The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds." Walpole Society 42 (1970), pp. 116, 119, quotes two entries: "May 17.1768 Lady Frances Coningby for Lord Malden / and Sister 175-0-0" and "May 1768 Lord Essexs two children 150 151-10".

Brinsley Ford. Letter to James Parker. November 1971, describes a copy or smaller sketch of the painting which Lord Essex gave to his great-grandfather, Richard Ford, in 1824.

Renate Prochno. Joshua Reynolds. Weinheim, 1990, p. 107, fig. 81, mentions among the artist's formats the combination of a seated female and a standing titled male, which was used again twenty years later for the portrait of Miss Mary Gideon and her brother William, Viscount Cowdray; observes that the viscount's pose was used later for the duke of York.

David Mannings and Martin Postle. Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings (The Subject Pictures catalogued by Martin Postle). New Haven, 2000, vol. 1, pp. 119–20, no. 308; vol. 2, fig. 911, list appointments with one or the other, or both, on April 8, 9, 10, 11 (cancelled), 14, 15, and 22, on May 1, 4, 9, 12, 14, and 16, and on June 8, 9, and 14, 1767; also a sitting with Lord Malden on April 19, 1768; find the total of the two 1768 payments high, but note that Reynolds would have sub-contracted and paid for the flowers and that there is no trace of another version; call the Ford picture a copy.

Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 19, 72–74, no. 30, ill. (color), figs. 13, 61 (installation photographs of the Great Library at Cassiobury Park).

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