Lemuel Francis Abbott (Leicestershire circa 1760-1803 London) Portrait of Henry Callender standing full-length in a landscape in the attire of Captain General of the Blackheath Golf Club, holding a wooden headed spoon with a metal headed blade putter by his side

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Lot 47W
Lemuel Francis Abbott
(Leicestershire circa 1760-1803 London)
Portrait of Henry Callender

Sold for £ 722,500 (US$ 997,173) inc. premium
Lemuel Francis Abbott (Leicestershire circa 1760-1803 London)
Portrait of Henry Callender standing full-length in a landscape in the attire of Captain General of the Blackheath Golf Club, holding a wooden headed spoon with a metal headed blade putter by his side
oil on canvas
223 x 137.8cm (87 13/16 x 54 1/4in).


  • Provenance
    The Royal Blackheath Golf Club, possibly since 1812

    William Ward, mezzotint, commissioned by the Royal Blackheath Golf Club in 1812 (fig. 1)

    D. McDonough and P. Georgiady, Great Golf Collections of the World, South Carolina, 2013, ill.

    This much celebrated golfing portrait depicts Henry Callender, a prominent English golfer in the late 18th century. It clearly enjoyed great success in its own day, as a mezzotint print of the portrait was issued in 1812 and helped to make the image famous, being further widely circulated when the mezzotint was reproduced in colour by various publishers 100 years later. It is unclear precisely when the Club acquired the present portrait but a note in the Club's minutes of 1812 refers to the carried proposal on the 4 June 1808 that after drinking his memory 'in affectionate silence ... Mr Callenders portrait might be procured for the purpose of having an Engraving executed'. There is a reference to the painting being in the Club's collection in a poem by the club member and club poet laureate, Thomas Marsh, read out at a dinner of the Club at the Cannon Street Hotel on 9 April 1870. This appears in Blackheath Golfing Lays, a collection of his poems published by Marsh in 1873:

    'See where the moon shines in its brightest splendour
    Upon the portrait of .... Callender.'

    Today golfing enthusiasts around the world know it as one of the earliest major golfing portraits in existence and one of the most iconic. The sitter is depicted in the Captain General's uniform of the Blackheath Society of Golfers. This style of uniform is still worn by the present Captains of the Club on formal occasions.

    There are two antique golf clubs featured within the painting. Callender is holding in his right hand a mid 18th century large stout spoon with an exaggerated rounded back. The artist has shown the rear of the club with its large area of lead back weight. To Callender's left is his metal headed blade putter with wrap round leather grip. The Club has always understood this to be the putter that is offered as the following lot in this sale.

    The medal that Henry Callender is wearing round his neck is what in 1802 became the Field Marshal's medal on the inauguration of the first holder of that office. The term Field Marshal was used at the Royal Blackheath before the military use of the title in the British army. The term related to the Marshal's role supervising the cutting of the holes in the course at Blackheath which were not permanent and varied from game to game. Although the portrait is not dated, his first appointment as Captain in 1790 coupled with Abbott's retirement date of 1798 give us the dates within which the portrait must have been painted.

    In the earliest written reference to the Blackheath Society 'The Goff Match, a Poem' (the Club had its own poet laureate) dated 5 March 1783 the final line makes reference to Callender:

    'And last of all CALLENDER, the Club's Secretaire.'

    Callender was Secretary from 1783 to 1790, 1796 to 1800 and 1802 to 1805. As the Secretary his was the second name (after the Captain, Coll Turner) to appear in the list of 55 subscribers within the Club's 1787 Cash Book. As well as being the Club's secretary for seventeen years he was also Captain of the Club on no less than three occasions - 1790, 1801 and 1807. When Callender took the Captaincy for the third occasion on 11 July 1807, the members held him in such high esteem that he was given the rank of Captain General, a title conferred on a member for exceptional service to the Club. This was a stop-gap title, one below that of the highest office, Field Marshal, and was not conferred again until 1973. This incident, which post-dated the death of Abbott in 1803 means that the second epaulet in the present portrait must have been added later, since we know that on this occasion James Walker (Captain in 1783) and Peter Laurie 'took the opportunity of expressing the regard and affections of the Club to the Chairman, by placing upon his shoulder an additional Epaulet, & his Health under the appellation of 'Captain General' was drunk with great applause."

    From what we read about Harry Callender we can picture an expatriate Scot who was both connoisseur and sociable bon-viveur; a character who would most surely have enjoyed the last two hundred years in which he had the privilege of looking down on the Royal Blackheath's famous 'Wee Dinners' in which haggis, a quaich of whisky, much toasting and often a song or two have been enjoyed before guests and members are invited to show off their pitching skills in a game of closest to the hole, played from the dining room table, through the window to the 18th green below.

    A charming letter from Callender was copied into the Society's minutes, dated 24 August 1801, thanking a John Henderson for a generous donation:

    'I have only now, Sir, to mingle my personal Congratulations with all those of your other Friends in the Society & to say in the words of the Golf Poet that whenever your avocations or pleasurable leisure Hours will permit you to participate in our favourite exercise - may -

    "Your Balls as they fly , & whiz thro the air
    Knock down the Blue devils - dull Sorrows & Care
    May your Health be preserv'd with the Strength active & bold
    - and may you -
    Long traverse the Green & forget to grow old."

    is the unfeigned wish of your affectionate Friend & most obedient humble Servant
    Henry Callender'

    Although nothing is recorded in the records of the Club regarding Henry Callender's identity, from his will of 1807 we can establish that he was a merchant with lodgings in Cornhill and was the uncle of the lawyer, William Grant of Rockville, who was one of his executors, as well as being one of his creditors. Henry (or Harry, as he was known to his nephew) appears to have had no children and the first legacy he lists in his will was 'fifty pounds to the Goff Club' (the equivalent of £35,000 today; National Records of Scotland GD113/5/10b). Henry lived at 28 Cornhill, between the Bank of England and the Royal Exchange and there is a memorial to him in Wren's church of Saint Peter's Cornhill (fig. 2), stating that he was interred in the South Aisle and died on the 3 December 1807.

    Harry's nephew, William Grant of Rockville in North Berwick and Congleton in East Lothian, who died in 1821 was also his chief beneficiary and was evidently close to his kinsman, with whom he socialised in London. A letter from him conveys to us how in March 1799 after a frustrating interview with the Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger, who refused to listen to his proposal for the transfer of some unspecified office, Grant sought the company of his uncle with whom he dined at Billingsgate '& the Fish is smoking on the table.' Another letter written in January 1792 gives us a glimpse of Harry's warm and clubbable loyalty towards his friends: 'I was this morning at the burial of a friend of my uncles who died at Hackney & was amus'd with the account of a scene that happened respecting the funeral the day before. The undertaker came to Harry who had given him orders & told him the burial must be delay'd till 4 oclock as the parson said he would see him damn'd before he read any funeral service at one being particularly engag'd that hour to a turkey & chine [sic]. Callender upon this flew in such a rage at the undertaker as made him think it prudent to decamp with the utmost precipitation & in a few hours after he reciv'd a note from him that he had with much difficulty prevaild with the parson who accordingly went thro' the service with tolerable decorum tho' under evident apprehensions of the turkey's being over roasted.'

    William also shared his uncle's love of portraiture. He had George Romney paint his children and most famously commissioned Gilbert Stuart to paint him skating on the Serpentine in Hyde Park in 1782 (fig. 3). This innovative portrait established Stuart's career: the artist later said that he had been 'lifted into fame by a single picture'. The Skater (now in the National Gallery of Art, Washington) is also believed to have influenced Henry Raeburn's celebrated masterpiece, The Skating Minister.

    Henry Callender's precise family origins are not known but since he was a merchant whose sister married a landowner in East Lothian he would most probably have begun his career in Edinburgh and moved to London at some point to further his trade. A relationship to the Callenders of Craigforth would appear to be most likely. The only Henry Callenders whose births were registered in the 18th century in either Scotland or England were Henry son of James Callender and Janet Edie (christened 1715) and Henry son of William Callender and Isabel Aikin (christened 1722). Both were in Falkirk in Stirlingshire and Craigforth is on the northern outskirts of Stirling. James was the prominent Craigforth family Christian name and intriguingly George Edward Cockagne's Complete Baronetage mentions two missing generations of Callenders of Craigforth at this period: between John Callender of Craigforth (1722-1789) and James Henry Callender of Craigforth (1803-1851). Not only the naming pattern but the family's status would be consistent with a member of this family's sister marrying a Grant of Congleton.

    In 1934 the renowned golf correspondent of The Times, Bernard Darwin wrote in The American Golfer, 'The other day I had the honour and pleasure of dining with the Blackheath Golf Club, the oldest golf club in the world...'. Before the Union of the English and Scottish crowns in 1603 few outside Scotland had ever heard of this outlandish game. From James IV of Scotland to James VII of Scotland and II of England every reigning monarch of the Stuart line was a golfer. Mary Queen of Scots was famously observed playing golf in the fields beside Seton a few days only after her husband, Darnley's murder in 1567. James VI of Scotland and his many courtiers are believed to have brought their golf clubs with them to London when he succeeded Elizabeth I in 1603. They would certainly have played at the Royal Park of Greenwich, which was a favourite palace of James, where he commissioned Inigo Jones to build the Queen's House for his wife, Anne of Denmark. It is also thought that by climbing to the higher ground at Blackheath, just outside Greenwich Park at the top of the southern slope these courtiers were able to find what space they needed and the perfect conditions in which to pursue their sport. It has further been scurrilously suggested that the Heath was the only rent-free piece of ground that the Scots could find!

    According to the Royal Blackheath the Club was 'instituted' in 1608. Although the origin of this date is not known for certain, it is thought to have derived from an incident involving James's son, Henry, Prince of Wales, playing golf, believed to have taken place in Greenwich in 1608 or earlier, for which there is documentary evidence. In a letter to his friend, Monsieur de Puisieux, dated 3st October 1606, the French Ambassador, Monsieur de Borderie, wrote of Henry: 'He plays willingly enough at tennis and at another Scots diversion very like Mall; but this always with persons older than himself, as if he despised thoes of his own age.' A further reference to Henry on the links states '... for when the prince was playing golf, and having warned his tutor [Adam Newton] who was standing by in conversation that he was going to strike the ball, and having lifted up the golf-club, some one observing, "Beware, sir, that you hit not Mr. Newton!" the Prince drew back the club, but smilingly observed, "Had I done so, I had but paid my debts."'

    The Club mentions that items in their possession suggest that a date of 1745 may have been the inauguration of a collection of players into a formalised Club. The idea that the first golf club could be English, and not Scottish, is therefore not as unlikely as it at first sounds. In Edinburgh there were plenty of golfers and arrangements for a game would have been easy to make. Blackheath is several miles outside the City of London and to get there in Stuart times would have meant significant travel arrangements, such as being ferried by watermen to Greenwich. Thus the reduced number of golfers and the geography could easily have produced more organisation sooner.

    The earliest public notice of a Blackheath golfing event dates to 1766 and the earliest written evidence in possession of the Club is the aforementioned Cash Book dated 1787 giving details of the "Subscribers of the Goff Club for 1787" which includes Henry Callender. Of these 55 members the vast majority were Scottish merchants or brokers, such as Callender and his predecessor as Captain, William Innes, with many of them living near the heath. The timing from the 1760s makes perfect sense from an historical perspective: with the recent patronage of George III's prime minister and favourite, the Marquis of Bute (who inspired many of Gillray's cartoons lampooning the Scots), with the Edinburgh Enlightenment and with the significant part the Scots were beginning to play during the Napoleonic Wars, this was the time - rather than the Union of Crowns in 1603, or the political Union of 1705 - when the Scots were beginning to integrate significantly with the English. Henry Callender, William Innes, William Grant and indeed the Royal Blackheath itself perfectly illustrate Professor Linda Colley's remark in her acclaimed book, Britons, that the Scots were not just passively assimilated into the British state system, but brought their own ideas and prejudices to bear on the business of being British.

    The other oldest golf clubs include The Honourable Company of Edinburgh Golfers; The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrew's; The Royal Burgess Golfing Society and The Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society.

    Another work that is celebrated as a Blackheath golfing image is the 1788 portrait known as The Blackheath Golfer, the mezzotint of which was first published in 1790 (fig. 4). Also painted by Abbott it shows the Club Captain, William Innes, the son of a banker who was born in Edinburgh in 1719, and his caddie on the Heath and was dedicated 'To the Society of Goffers at Blackheath'. According to different accounts, the original oil painting was either destroyed with the Blackheath Club's early records in an 18th century fire, or during the Indian Mutiny of 1857.

    Abbott was a Leicestershire-born portraitist who studied under another painter of portraits and figure subjects, Francis Hayman. By 1784 Abbott was known to be working in London and was exhibiting portraits at the Royal Academy by later that decade. He had a successful studio and a good line of patronage from naval officers and government officials – indeed one of his best known commissions was for a portrait of the naval hero Horatio Nelson. His ill-health led to his retirement from painting around 1798.
Lemuel Francis Abbott (Leicestershire circa 1760-1803 London) Portrait of Henry Callender standing full-length in a landscape in the attire of Captain General of the Blackheath Golf Club, holding a wooden headed spoon with a metal headed blade putter by his side
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