The Honble Admiral Keppell. Silhouette

A printed silhouette portrait of Admiral Augustus Keppel (1725–1786) wearing a naval uniform and a cockade hat with his hair tied in a queue. The silhouette is mostly solid black, except the cockade and lapels, which are highlighted in grey, and the shirt ruffles and hair ribbon, which are shaded with cross-hatching. In his later years, Keppel was extremely corpulent and this print shows a prominent double chin. The portrait is framed a laurel wreath, hand-coloured in green, and by a circular border. Lettered beneath the image ‘The Honble Admiral Keppell’. The identity of the artist is not recorded on the print. It may be Sarah Harrington, a leading eighteenth-century silhouette artist, who advertised in March 1779 ‘A Most Striking Likeness of The Hon. Admiral Keppel…allowed to be as striking a resemblance as was ever produced and is not from any copy; the Admiral having, at the request of his numerous friends, since his late return from Portsmouth, honoured Mrs. Harrington by sitting for the same.’ This advertisement was printed in various regional newspapers, including ‘Jackson’s Oxford Journal’, the ‘Hampshire Chronicle’ and the ‘Stamford Mercury’. Each paper listed local print-shops where Harrington’s silhouette could be purchased. The silhouette commemorated Keppel’s acquittal after a high-profile court martial at Portsmouth in February 1779. The charges against Keppel related to his conduct as the commander of the British fleet at the Battle of Ushant in July 1778. The result of the battle had been inconclusive, giving rise to a bitter dispute between Keppel and his second-in-command Hugh Palliser over what had gone wrong. The whole affair was politically charged, for Keppel had the support of the opposition Whigs whereas Palliser was backed by the Tory government. Keppel’s acquittal was greeted with widespread public celebrations. Many tradespeople, including Harrington, sought to capitalise upon the admiral’s sudden popularity by marketing portraits of the admiral. Harrington was one of the most prolific silhouette artists of the period, travelling the country with her patented ‘new and curious apparatus’ (a kind of camera obscura) for taking silhouettes. Many of the most successful silhouette artists in the eighteenth century were women. Keppel, who was the second son of the Earl of Albemarle, enjoyed a long and successful career at sea prior to the Battle of Ushant but, after his court-martial, he retired from active service, becoming a viscount in 1782 and dying in 1786. (Updated April 2019.)

Object Details

ID: PAD2949
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
People: Keppel, Augustus
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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