Charles Stewart, Sixth Marquess of Londonderry, Carrying the Great Sword of State at the Coronation of King Edward VII, August, 1902, and Mr. W. C. Beaumont, His Page on That Occasion
John Singer Sargent (American, 1856–1925)
Overall: 287 x 195.6 cm (113 x 77 in.) Framed: 317.5 × 226.1 × 10.2 cm (125 × 89 × 4 in.)
Medium or Technique
Oil on canvas
Ruth and Carl J. Shapiro Gallery (Gallery 232)
Sargent had declined the official commission to paint the coronation of Edward VII in 1902, deferring to his friend and compatriot Edwin Austin Abbey [2004.238] (Coronation of King Edward VII, about 1902–7, Royal Collection, United Kingdom), but he captured its pageantry in this formal likeness of Lord Londonderry and his nephew, who both participated in the event. In full-length portraits such as this, Sargent sought to become heir to a long tradition of grand-manner portraiture, aligning himself with renowned masters like Anthony van Dyck [61.391] and Sir Thomas Lawrence [2005.201], both admired for their depictions of British nobility. Sargent’s painting would have been directly compared with these works; the Londonderry family owned at least three portraits by Lawrence and all of the paintings, including Sargent’s, were displayed together in the splendid setting of Londonderry House on London’s Park Lane. Thus both Charles Stewart and Sargent were positioned as worthy heirs to a long and successful line of patrons and painters.
Charles Stewart Vane-Tempest-Stewart (1852–1915) was the eldest son of the fifth Marquess of Londonderry and came into the title upon his father’s death in 1884. His wife was Theresa Susey Helen Chetwynd-Talbot, daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury; they married in 1875. Lord Londonderry, consistently conservative in his views, had a working political career largely centered on Ireland, where he held large tracts of land; he was a vociferous opponent of Home Rule. At the coronation of King Edward VII in August 1902, Londonderry was an active participant, engaged to hold the Great Sword of State, one of five swords carried in the elaborate procession. His nephew Wentworth Henry Canning Beaumont (1890–1956), the son of his sister Alexandra, served as his page for the occasion, carrying the train of his velvet robes and holding the marquess’s coronet.
Sargent was engaged to paint this stunning and flamboyant portrait by the marchioness, replying positively to her letter of invitation on January 13, 1904, and alerting her to the cost of the commission: 1,200 guineas (£1,260). He recreated the event’s solemn magnificence by posing Lord Londonderry, in the full regalia he had worn, in his Tite Street studio. As the work neared completion, Sargent wrote to thank Londonderry for his patience with “those arduous sittings in panoply” that had led to his successful likeness.No stranger to aristocratic portraiture at this point in his career, Sargent had no doubt studied the work of his artistic predecessors, in particular Lawrence’s portrait of the Duke of Wellington carrying the Great Sword of State (1814–15, Royal Collection, United Kingdom), which shows the duke holding the same weapon aloft. According to the artist’s letter, Sargent amended the background of his portrait late in the process based on ideas he devised while making sketches of the architecture of Westminster Abbey, where the coronation had taken place (one watercolor study of the abbey survives, in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York).
Sargent used the shadowy spaces of the Gothic cathedral to set off the brilliant white, gold, and crimson of Lord Londonderry’s garments. Against a somber background of one of the great colonnetted piers of the nave, enlivened by the shimmer of colored light falling from the stained glass windows, Londonderry stands erect, holding the heavy, yard-long sheathed sword upright before him, as he would have carried it during the coronation. He wears the fur-trimmed velvet cloak of his rank over the full dress uniform of a privy councillor and his chest is adorned with prestigious decorations, including those representing his membership in the Order of the Bath and the Order of the Garter, whose distinctive blue band is also displayed proudly below his left knee. For Sargent, these symbols of honor and authority were an excuse to show off: great slashes of thick white paint define the lining of Londonderry’s heavy mantle and the folds in his white silk breeches, flickers of yellow and gold shimmer across his chest. Despite (or conceivably because of) these flourishes, Londonderry himself seems somewhat meek—perhaps, even in his splendor and dignity, a bit overwhelmed by the grandeur of the occasion.
Sargent sent this portrait to be shown at the Royal Academy in London in 1904, where it earned ambivalent reviews and a caricature in the satiric magazine Punch, which posited Londonderry as a cricketeer. Some thought Sargent might have been intimidated by the pomp and ceremony of this commission; others found the best part of the composition to be the figure of Beaumont, the page, whose pale proud face, swiftly painted, gleams in the background. The writer for The Graphic confessed that the young boy’s figure was “so exquisite as almost to draw off attention from the man’s figure,”  while critic Roger Fry, citing the cavalier editing of works by the old masters (which were sometimes cut down or divided by art dealers), concluded that Sargent’s “page will be cut out and will make a charming morceau by itself.”  The painting stayed intact, however, given pride of place in the ballroom at Londonderry House [link to photo of painting hanging at Londonderry House][JMS1] until the family sold first the house, and later the painting.
1. Sargent to Lord Londonderry, undated letter, Londonderry Papers, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland, quoted in Richard Ormond and Elaine Kilmurray, John Singer Sargent, The Later Portraits (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 128.
2. “The Pick of the Pictures,” Punch, May 4, 1904, 321.
3. “The Royal Academy—I,” Graphic (London), April 30, 1904, 591.
4. Roger Fry, “Fine Arts at the Royal Academy, First Notice,”Athenaeum, May 7, 1904, 598.
Erica E. Hirshler
[JMS1]Link to photo in AoA files of 2003.270 hanging in Londonderry House.
lower left: John S. Sargent 1904
1904, the sitter, the Marquess of Londonderry; descended in the family until 1984. 1984, private collection. 2003, partial purchase and anonymous gift to the MFA.
Gift of an American Private Collector and Museum purchase with the generous assistance of a friend of the Museum, and the Juliana Cheney Edwards Collection, M. and M. Karolik Fund, Harry Wallace Anderson Fund, General Funds, Francis Welch Fund, Susan Cornelia Warren Fund, Ellen Kelleran Gardner Fund, Abbott Lawrence Fund, and funds by exchange from a Gift of John Richardson Hall, Bequest of Ernest Wadsworth Longfellow, Gift of Alexander Cochrane, The Hayden Collection—Charles Henry Hayden Fund, Anonymous gift, and Bequest of Maxim Karolik