John Wilkes (1727-1797) Portrait by the Studio of Robert Edge Pine (British, circa 1733-1788)

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Lot 8
John Wilkes (1727-1797)
Portrait by Robert Edge Pine (British, circa 1733-1788)

Sold for £ 3,600 (US$ 4,511) inc. premium
John Wilkes (1727-1797)
Portrait by the Studio of Robert Edge Pine (British, circa 1733-1788)
Oil on canvas
76.2 x 63.5cm (30 x 25in)

Footnotes

  • The present lot is a version of one of Pine’s most famous paintings. At the Palace of Westminster there is a three-quarter length version dated 1768, which includes in the foreground a profile portrait of John Hampden, Wilkes’s seventeenth century predecessor and inspiration in his stand for Parliamentary freedom against the Crown’s putative dictatorship. The portrait presents him as an unreformed writer and agitator. Wilkes’s squint is perhaps his best known feature, shown memorably in the engraved portrait by his enemy William Hogarth.

    Pine’s style was well-suited to suggesting the restless energy of eccentric sitters, and it is perhaps unsurprising that his most successful portraits were of mavericks and individualists, including the star of the mid-eighteenth century stage, actor and tireless self-promoter David Garrick and the irascible and curmudgeonly King George II. His own radical sympathies made him too controversial a choice for foundation membership of the Royal Academy but he enjoyed good patronage in this country until 1783 when he emigrated to the United States. He continued to work as a portraitist there, settling in Philadelphia by 1784 where he was assisted by Charles Wilson Peale.

    Curiously, in view of their later involvement, John Wilkes the populist demagogue was one of Fox’s earliest political targets. Wilkes was MP for the City of London 1768-69, and again in 1774-90, Lord Mayor 1774-75 and Chamberlain of the City of London in 1779. He had been outlawed in 1764 for his attacks on Parliament and by implication on the King himself, returning from Continental exile in 1768, the date of Pine’s portrait.

    Back in England he continued his campaign against the political closed shop of Westminster, arguing for a greater voice for the City and the commercial interests. In the early 1770s Fox inveighed against Wilkes, his printers and the City Aldermen who supported him, as libellers of Parliament and threat to the foundation of government. His hostility to the City was seen as an extension of his father, Henry Fox’s causes. Twice he was assaulted by the mob, and Horace Walpole remarked: ‘Charles Fox, as if impatient to inherit his father’s unpopularity, abused the City as his father used to do.’ It is ironic, then, that by 1784 when Fox had almost completed his own political revolution, and had shifted from unwilling partnership with Lord North to de facto support for Lord Rockingham’s Whig Party that he should have found himself campaigning in the Westminster Election on the same platform as Wilkes, and in the interest of an alliance of radicals, English and Irish.
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