James Dashwood, born in London in 1715, was educated at Eton and Abington. He took the Grand Tour from 1732 until 1736, succeeding his grandfather as second Baronet in 1734, during his travels on the continent. In 1739 he married Elizabeth Spencer; the couple had eight children. The Museum owns a portrait by Reynolds of their daughter Anne (50.238.2
). Dashwood became high sheriff for Oxfordshire in 1738 and was high steward at the University of Oxford from 1759 until his death in 1779. He was elected a member of Parliament for Oxfordshire in 1761.
The manors of Northbrook and Kirtlington had come into the Dashwood family through Sir James’s grandmother Penelope Chamberlayne. From the time of her marriage in 1682 to the first Baronet, the Dashwoods had lived at Northbrook House. Sir James's great work was the building of a new house, Kirtlington Park, on high ground a mile south of the old mansion and ten miles from Oxford. Various architects contributed to the design of the house, and Capability Brown laid out the grounds. The foundations were dug in 1742, and in 1746 the Dashwoods moved in, although the building was still incomplete. One of the principal interiors was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum in 1931.
Since the picture is dated 1737 and Kirtlington Park was built between 1742 and 1746, the rudimentary view of the house in the background must have been added later, perhaps after the artist’s death. (There is a large old tear in the background below and to the left of the house.) Sir James must have commissioned this portrait of himself from Seeman, a respected and established but very conservative painter, not long after his twenty-first birthday. Another portrait by Seeman shows John, Lord Harvey, son and heir of the first Earl of Bristol (private collection) in the same pose and a similar costume. A portrait of George Venables Vernon, first Baron Vernon (private collection), signed and dated 1740, shows the pose reversed.
[2010; adapted from Baetjer 2009]