Captain John Hayes St Leger (1756 - 1799)
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Full length portrait of Captain John Hayes St Leger standing on a hill with stormy clouds behind. He is wearing the uniform of a captain in the 55th Foot with the distinctive brown tops to the black boots. His body is turning towards the right, with his head turned left in three-quarter profile. His left leg is slightly forward; and his right leg bent. He places his left hand on sword just beneath the hilt and points down with his right hand.
Joshua Reynolds combined several modern and antique sources to convey the appeal and drama of the soldier and rake, Captain John St Leger, known as 'handsome Jack'. In Ferdinand de Rothschild's time, this was the only male portrait by Reynolds at Waddesdon. It was bought as a pendant to a painting by Gainsborough of the Prince of Wales, creating a direct comparison between these 18th-century rivals.
St Leger was a captain of the 55th Foot Regiment, whose uniform Reynolds shows in great detail. He was also a very close friend of George, the Prince of Wales. His unruly behaviour caused the King to warn his son against emulating 'conduct that makes all good men despise a St Leger'. John's uncle, Anthony St Leger, started the famous horse race in Doncaster. In 1782, the Prince of Wales commissioned portraits of himself and St Leger by Gainsborough; Gainsborough's portrait of the Prince of Wales hangs in the same room at Waddesdon (acc. no. 2258) whilst that of St Leger is in the Royal Collection.
Reynolds painted his version four years before. He combined a very simple pose with allusions to classical sculpture and Old Master paintings. The pose appears to be a conflation of the antique statues known as the Apollo Belvedere, the Capitoline Antinous and the Meleager. The length of the figures has been compared to paintings by El Greco and the boyish military figure to paintings by Goya. The portrait marks Reynolds's development of the intellectual and classical potential of portraiture and foreshadows the baroque drama evident in his portraits of the 1780s and 1790s. The work was influential and inspired other artists such as John Singleton Copley.
In displaying the two paintings together in the Red Drawing Room, the main reception room of the Manor, Ferdinand de Rothschild not only demonstrated his knowledge of the original commission to Gainsborough. He also provoked a comparison between two great late 18th-century English portraitists that his guests would have enjoyed.
Phillippa Plock, 2011
Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)
2398 x 1475
Signature & date
not signed or dated
- Commissioned by Captain John Hayes St Leger (b.1756, d.1800) in 1778, £70 paid February 1778, £87.10 outstanding June 1779; inherited by his brother Anthony Butler St Leger (active 1800-1852); by descent to Anthony Francis Butler St Leger (d.1862); inherited by his cousin Colonel John Bagot-Chester (St Leger from 1863) (b.1823, d.1905); sold by Colonel John St Leger to Thomas Agnew & Sons Ltd 3 June 1882; bought from Agnew's by Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild (b.1839, d.1898) with Gainsborough’s 'George, Prince of Wales' for a combined price of £5,750, stock no 2443, 12 May [June?] 1882; inherited by his sister Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922); inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1957.
- Royal Academy Exhibition, London, 1884, no. 149
- 45 Park Lane London, 1937, no. 11
- Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, 1946
- Royal Academy Exhibition, London, 1956, no. 295
- Waddesdon (National Trust)
- Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957
- Algernon Graves, William Vine Cronin; A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds; 4 vols; London; Henry Graves; 1899-1901; vol. 3, pp. 862-63.
- Ellis Waterhouse; Reynolds; London; Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co. Ltd.,; 1941; p. 70.
- Sir Francis Watson, The Art Collections at Waddesdon Manor I: The Paintings, Apollo, 69, June 1959, 172-182; p. 175, fig. 9.
- Ellis Waterhouse, The English Pictures at Waddesdon Manor, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 49-56; p. 49.
- Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; p. 80, cat. no. 29, ill.
- Geoffrey Agnew; Agnew's 1871 - 1967; England; Bradbury Agnew Press; 1967; p. 33, ill.
- Malcolm Cormack, The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds, The Walpole Society, 42, 1968-1970, 105-69; p. 163.
- Moya Frenz St. Leger; St. Leger: The Family and the Race; Chichester; Phillimore & Co. Ltd; 1986; pp. 79, 82-83, pl. 15.
- Stephen Butler; Gainsborough: The Master painters; London; Studio Editions; 1992; p. 27, ill.
- Martin Postle, Reynolds's Portraits at Waddesdon Manor: Painting for Posterity, Apollo, 139, 1994, 19-33; p. 20, pl. 2.
- William Pressly; The Challenge of New Horizons; William Pressly, John Singleton Copley in England, Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 11 October 1995 - 7 January 1996; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 4 February - 28 April 1996, National Gallery of Art, 1995; p. 49, fig. 30.
- Michael Rosenthal; The Art of Thomas Gainsborough; London; Yale University Press; 1999; pp.147-8, 151, pl. 141.
- David Mannings, Martin Postle; Sir Joshua Reynolds: a Complete Catalogue of his Paintings; 2 vols; London; Yale University Press; 2000; pp. 435-436, no. 1713.
- Captain John Hayes St Leger, Sitter
Person as Subject
- Nature, Landscape & The Elements/Countryside
- Work & Occupations/Maritime & Military/Soldier
- Objects/Clothing & Personal Effects/Uniforms
- Objects/Armour & Weaponry/Sword
- Nature, Landscape & The Elements/Clouds