Philip Reinagle (British 1749-1833) and Sawrey Gilpin (British 1733-1807) Portrait of Colonel Thornton, Marquess Dupont,
Lot 1233W
Philip Reinagle
(British 1749-1833) and Sawrey Gilpin (British 1733-1807)
Portrait of Colonel Thornton, Marquess Dupont,
Sold for AU$ 348,000 (US$ 262,119) inc. premium

The Owston Collection

26 Jun 2010, 10:30 EST


Lot Details
Philip Reinagle (British 1749-1833) and Sawrey Gilpin (British 1733-1807)
Portrait of Colonel Thornton, Marquess Dupont, roebuck shooting in the forest of Glenmore with his twelve barrel volley rifle
oil on canvas
209 x 150cm (82 5/16 x 59 1/16in).


    With Richard Green.

    Colonel Thornton, A Sporting Tour Through Various Parts Of France, In The Year 1802, 1806, pp. 68, 75-76
    Arthur G. Credland, Colonel Thornton's coach gun and other weapons, with notes on the career of a great Yorkshire Sportsman, Arms & Armour, volume 2, number 2 (2005), p. 169

    Thomas Thornton (1757-1823), self-styled Prince of Chambord and Marquess de Pont, is famous for being one of the most dedicated and flamboyant sportsmen of the 18th and 19th centuries, dividing his time between hunting, racing, shooting, angling and hawking. In the shooting field he was certainly the best equipped - in his words he had 'a greater quantity of sporting apparatus of the most valuable and curious manufacture than any other sporting gentleman in England' - and he favoured air weapons and multi-barrelled guns and rifles, including examples with seven, twelve and fourteen barrels (the second of these depicted in the present portrait, the last preserved in the Arms Museum, Liège, no. Ael/5866). He was something of a legend in his own time, as well known as a bon viveur as he was as a sportsman and collector.

    Thornton inherited Thornville Royal estate in Yorkshire, but his exuberant lifestyle, which involved keeping two London houses as well as his country seat, taxed his finances and he was eventually forced to sell his estates. Contemporary records chart the progress south of his considerable belongings and retinue after the sale of the Yorkshire property: this included grooms, huntsmen, falconers, kennel-hands and servants, travelling by horse and attended by hounds, following a chain of wagons containing his prize animals. In addition to the live cargo was 'a fantastic arsenal of sporting weapons drawn by Arab mares of the King's stud. The procession was completed by several wagon-loads of wine.'

    Thornton was a Lieutenant Colonel in the West York Militia, a regiment that had been both financed and commanded by his father before him. In 1794 a dispute arose at Roborough Camp, near Plymouth, between Colonel Thornton and some of his officers. This was to lead to Thornton's court-martial and subsequent resignation as described in his pamphlet entitled An Elucidation of a Mutinous Conspiracy entered into by the officers of the West York Regiment of Militia against their Commanding Officer in year 1794.

    A francophile, Thornton visited France with his mistress before the Revolution and again in 1802 on a sporting journey afforded during the brief peace created by the Treaty of Amiens following Napoleon's defeat of the Austrians at the Battle of Marengo in June 1800. It seems probable that while in France, Thornton sought the support of the First Consul, Napoleon Bonaparte, over the circumstances of his court-martial. If he could convince Bonaparte that his version of the events were the truth and gain his endorsement, it would greatly help him to regain his reputation. He used the gift of a fine pair of pistols as his introduction. In his Sporting Tour Through France Thornton describes writing to General Duroc, Napoleon's aide-de-camp, gaining an interview and 'After some conversation .....I produced the pistols designed for the First Consul. The general then enquired the name of my regiment, with the particulars of which I acquainted him, as well as the manner of my quitting it; after which we parted mutually satisfied with each other.' He goes on to say 'In a few days I was favoured with a letter from General Duroc, containing the thanks of the First Consul for the pistols, which had been very graciously accepted.' In due course Thornton was presented to Bonaparte at the Tuileries. Their meeting was to provide a further opportunity of explaining the virtues of the men once under his command and all the implied regret caused by the untimely separation from them. 'He (Napoleon) noticed my medallion, and enquired the meaning of it. I told him, the legend was Triumph of Truth and that the medallion had been presented to me by the soldiers of the West York Militia, when I was Lieutenant Colonel of that regiment, as a testimony of their esteem for myself and family'. One of the pair of gold-inlaid pistols presented by Thornton to Napoleon Bonaparte was sold by Bonhams in London, 6 April 2006.

    Following the sale of his estates Thornton leased Spye Park in Wiltshire in 1805 from the Bayntun family. He wanted to replace the Bayntun family portraits with sporting paintings of his own, and commissioned a number of large-scale works from the best sporting artists of the day such as Reinagle, Gilpin and Henry Bernard Chalon. Reinagle is known to have painted a portrait of him holding a hawk, as well as portraying his spaniels, and Gilpin exhibited A foxhound in the possession of Col. Thornton at the Royal Academy in 1786, and in 1792 a horse portrait entitled Jupiter, the property of Col. Thornton. This last work, measuring an imposing 134 x 175cm, came to auction in London in 2009 when it realised just over £100,000.

    Thornton is also famous for his succession of mistresses, the first being Alicia Meynell or Massingham known as the 'Norwich Nymph' and famous in her own right for her horse race against Captain Flint at York racecourse in 1804, and again in 1805 on the Knavesmire when she beat Edward Buckle the crack jockey of his day. Thornton moved to France during the second decade of the 19th century and in 1819-20 his very substantial art collection – which included works by significant Old Masters – was auctioned off to settle his debts.

    Philip Reinagle was the son of Hungarian parents who came to Scotland in 1771 as part of the Young Pretender movement. Displaying a precocious talent, the young Reinagle studied in Edinburgh from the age of fourteen under the portraitist Allan Ramsay, after whom his son, Ramsay Richard Reinagle, was later to be named. Reinagle became an adept portraitist but was equally at home with landscapes, animal and sporting subjects. He collaborated on a number of works with Sawrey Gilpin who also came from a family of artists, and who made a name for himself with his sporting paintings. Gilpin undertook independent commissions for Col. Thornton, including Col Thornton's pointers, painted around 1800.

    In the present work, which is believed to date from 1786, it is likely that Reinagle painted the figure of Thornton and Gilpin the background and dog.
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