Statesman and Prime Minister
Sitter in 1 portrait
Artist associated with 1 portrait
Donor of 1 portrait
William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Bentinck, third Duke of Portland
Artist: by Benjamin West
Medium: oil on canvas
Measurements: height 2438 mm. (96 in.) width 1829 mm. (72 in.)
at lower right: 'B. West/ 1814'
Acquisition: gift from William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, fourth Duke of Portland, 1816
Location: Examination Schools
Whole length, seated in ornately carved chair facing viewer, head turned almost in profile to right; white full-bottomed wig; lace cravat and ruffles; heavy black brocaded silk Chancellor's robe with gold lace trimming on collar, facings and sleeves, over black clothes; Garter of St George, buckled shoes; his right foot rests on a footstool; his right hand holds a scroll of papers, his left rests on the arm of his chair; peer's robes and coronet on a table to left; university crest, inscribed below 'Deus Illuminati Mea', carved on the back of the chair, above sitter's head; architectural and curtain background, distant view over the Radcliffe Camera through opening to left, landscape through opening to right.
The portrait was offered to the University by the sitter's son, the fourth Duke of Portland, in April 1812, and delivered later that year: 'The Vice-Chancellor having informed the Board that his Grace the Duke of Portland had been graciously pleased to present a Portrait of his Father - the late Chancellor, to the University - Ordered, that the Vice Chancellor be requested to return the respectful Thanks of the Board to his Grace for this kind Mark of his attention.' (Hebdomadal Board Minutes, 21 Oct 1816, Hebdomadal Register 1803-23, Oxford University Archives, WP gamma, 24/3, p.406)
The third Duke of Portland died in 1809, five years before the inscribed date on the painting which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1814 as a portrait of 'the late Duke of Portland as Chancellor of the University of Oxford'. (A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts: a complete dictionary of contributors and their work from its foundation in 1769 to 1904, 8 vols, 1905). The profile head in this portrait derives from that of the Duke in West's double portrait William Henry Cavendish Bentinck, Third Duke of Portland, and His Brother, Lord Edward Bentinck (1774; private collection, reproduced in Von Erffa and Staley, p.544)
A slight sketch for the composition was with the Covent Garden Gallery, London, in 1981; a second version or copy of the portrait was formerly in a private collection in London. (Von Erffa and Staley, p.545, no.684) The unusual breadth of the portrait, emphasized further by the sitter's pose in which his profiled head forms an apex above his widespread arms resting on those of his large chair, gives full play to his heavy gold-embroidered robe. The effect is one that fully emphasizes the presiding role of the Chancellor of the University. The composition derives, perhaps, from Lawrence's state portrait of George III (1809; the Royal Collection). In this, the (seated) king's ermine robe is deployed to similar effect.
Royal Academy, 1814, no.103; Oxford Exhibition of Historical Portraits, Examination Schools, Oxford, 1906, no.161
Illustrated catalogue of a loan collection of portraits of English historical personages who died between 1714 and 1837: exhibited in the Examination schools, Oxford, April and May, MDCCCCVI (1906), no.161; R. Lane Poole, Catalogue of Portraits in the possession of the University, Colleges, City, and County of Oxford, 3 vols (1912, 1925), I, p.143, no.348; H. von Erffa and A. Staley, The Paintings of Benjamin West (1986), pp.544-45, no.684
Annette Peach, ‘OP15 William Henry Cavendish Cavendish-Bentinck, third Duke of Portland (1738-1809)’, Portraits in Oxford, online edn, 2006,
[http://www.odl.ox.ac.uk/oxfordportraits/portrait.php?w=15, accessed 24th May 2013]