Joshua Reynolds, Rt Hon. Charles Townshed (1725–1767)

Photo courtesy of Tom St Aubyn (All rights reserved)


Country House
Raynham Hall
Rt Hon. Charles Townshed (1725–1767)
The Red Saloon
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 90 cm, Overall width: 69 cm
Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792)
Catalogue Number
  • Inscribed top right: ‘The Right Hon. Charles Townshend/ Chancellor of the Exchequer./ Sir J. Reynolds pinxit’


The Rt. Hon. Charles Townshend (1725–1767) was the second son of Charles, 3rd Viscount Townshend (1700–1764) and Ethelreda ‘Audrey’ Harrison (c.1708–1788). He married Caroline, Dowager Countess of Dalkeith and afterwards in her own right Baroness Greenwich (1717–1794), daughter of Field Marshal John Campbell, 2nd Duke of Argyll (c.1683–1743) and Jane Warburton (c.1680–1767), on 15 August 1755 at Adderbury, Oxfordshire. At the general election of 1747, Townshend was elected MP for Great Yarmouth on his father’s interest. The following year he sat on the Board of Trade during which time he developed his views on America. Over the course of his political career, he held various senior posts including the position of chancellor of the exchequer (1766–7). Intelligent but untrustworthy, he was known for his spirited oration and is best remembered for his harsh programme of taxation known as the Townshend Acts, which contributed to the eventual loss of the American colonies. 

This is one of three portraits that Reynolds painted of this sitter. The second, a full-length portrait, also at Raynham (RN62), shows Townshend in robes of the chancellor of the Exchequer. A third smaller head-and-shoulders portrait, dating from about 1767, is similar to the present work but depicts the sitter looking at the viewer and omits the papers on the desk.1

A number of appointments with ‘Townshend’ are recorded in Reynolds’s pocket books in 1755 and in 1757. The pocket book for 1756 is missing. In his ledger Reynolds recorded a payment of 12 guineas before 14 April 1761: this sum equates to the full price he then charged for a ‘kit-cat’-sized portrait measuring 36 x 28 inches, the same size as the present work but larger than the 30 x 25-inch portrait just mentioned.

 The painting was included in the auction in 1904 of the Townshend Heirlooms.2 At the time of the sale it featured, with a photograph, in the illustrated newspaper The Graphic, where it was stated that the picture had been ‘bought by Mr. Thomas Wallis (of the French Gallery) for 820 guineas’.3 It was then evidently acquired on behalf of Colonel Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend (1861–1924), the heir presumptive to Raynham Hall. In 1946 it was sold, once more at Christie’s, by Colonel Townshend’s widow, and subsequently reacquired for Raynham.4 

Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723–1792) was one of the most influential and successful British artists of the late eighteenth century. The first president of the Royal Academy, he delivered a series of ‘Discourses on Art’ which had a profound impact on contemporary art theory and practice. While he held up history painting as the noblest form of art, he was most successful as a portraitist and developed a ‘Grand Manner’ that idealised nature and looked back to antiquity and the old masters for inspiration. Reynolds made experimental use of different materials, which, even during his lifetime, often resulted in noticeable changes to the painted surface. Subsequent campaigns of restoration have at times resulted in further deterioration of the surfaces of his portraits.

by Emily Knight and Martin Postle


Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, Portraits in Norfolk Houses, ed. Rev. Edmund Farrer, vol. 2, Norwich : Jarrold and Sons, 1928, vol. 2, p. 212, no. 91 (‘RT. HON. CHARLES TOWNSHEND’)

David Mannings and Martin Postle, Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols., New Haven and London : Yale University Press, 2000, vol. 1, p. 446, no. 1758


  1. Mannings and Postle, 2000, vol. 1, p. 446, no. 1760.

  2. Christie’s, London, 5 March 1904 (92).

  3. The Graphic, 19 March 1904, p. 390. The French Gallery, based at 120 Pall Mall, was founded by the Belgian-born publisher and art dealer Ernest Gambart (1814–1902). He subsequently sold the lease of the gallery to Henry Wallis (1871–1949).

  4. Christie’s, London, 3 May 1946 (51).


Related catalogue items from Raynham Hall

  • Castle Howard Raynham Hall

    Lord Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend (1785–1853)

    attributed to William Beechey, c.1805–10

  • Castle Howard Raynham Hall

    ? Audrey, Lady Townshend (1732–1781)

    circle of George Knapton, ? c. 1746

  • Castle Howard Raynham Hall

    Unknown Man

    Godfrey Kneller, 1722