Vice-Admiral John Byng, 1704-57

A three-quarter-length portrait to the right, in flag officer's full-dress uniform, 1748-67. He wears a white waistcoat richly embroidered in gold and a white dress wig. He holds his sword with his left hand and has his hat under his left arm. Naval officers' uniform was only introduced in 1748 and this portrait is a good example showing the first flag officer's full dress pattern. In the right background is Byng's flagship, red at the fore, and other ships saluting.

The Honourable John Byng, the fourth son of Admiral Viscount Torrington, had an unremarkable career until he was sent to relieve the British-held island of Minorca in 1756 when it was under siege by the French. Having risen to flag rank through his illustrious connections but without fighting experience commensurate to the task, his action with the blockading French fleet was inconclusive and the island was lost. He was recalled, humiliatingly confined at Greenwich Hospital, then court-martialled and shot in 1757 on board his own flagship, 'Monarch', at Portsmouth, for neglect of duty. Although the court felt obliged to pass the sentence on point of law, it did so with a strong recommendation for mercy. When this was refused by George II it was recognized that Byng had also been made a political scapegoat and Voltaire, in his novel 'Candide', famously included mention of his (bravely met) death: ' In this country [England]', he wrote, ' it is thought good to shoot an admiral from time to time, to encourage the others'. The French phrase ' pour encourager les autres' has been common in English usage ever since.

The painter, Hudson, was both pupil and son-in-law of another notable portraitist, the elder Jonathan Richardson, and was in turn the early master in London of Joshua Reynolds. Regarded as a safe man for a dignified and flattering likeness, he was the leading society portraitist of his time, with a huge practice. Although he painted his sitters' faces his use of assistants to paint much of the rest of his portraits was well known although far from unusual. The painting, which is in its fine original frame, with the Byng crest, is signed and dated, and inscribed 'Honble. John Byng Esq. Vice Admiral of ye Red Squadron of his Majesty's Fleet'.

Object Details

ID: BHC2590
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - QH
Creator: Hudson, Thomas
Date made: 1749
People: Byng, The Honourable John
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Presented by the Earl of Strafford, 1941.
Measurements: Frame: 1577 mm x 1302 mm x 110 mm;Overall: 33.6 kg;Painting: 1270 mm x 1016 mm

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