Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Graves, circa 1747-1814

A three-quarter-length portrait to left wearing rear-admiral's full-dress uniform, 1795-1812. The star of the KB is visible on his coat. His dress sword is in his left hand and his right hand rests on a rock. In the left background is the 'Defiance', 74 guns, in action at the Battle of Copenhagen in 1801, and in the right background, a monumental funerary urn. The portrait is both signed and dated (1802) and is a replica of another of the same size, dated 1801, which is apparently the prime version and has been in the Government Art Collection since 1977 (GAC 13332).

As a lieutenant, Graves had served on Phipps's Arctic expedition of 1773. The following year he went to North America with his uncle, Admiral Samuel Graves. While there he was employed in the prevention of smuggling and was badly burnt in an encounter with rebels on the Charles River. As captain of the 'Bedford', 74 guns, he fought at the Battle of Chesapeake (or the Capes of Virginia), 1781, where his cousin Admiral Thomas Graves -later 1st Baron Graves - commanded the fleet. As Commodore Affleck's flag captain he also fought in the 'Bedford' at the Battles of Frigate Bay, St Kitts, January 1782, and the Saints, April 1782. When the French Revolutionary War began in 1793, Graves saw no active service until his appointment to the 'Cumberland', 74 guns, in 1800. In 1801, after promotion to Rear-Admiral of the White, he was appointed third-in-command to Admiral Sir Hyde Parker in the Baltic expedition against the Armed Neutrality engineered by Tsar Paul II of Russia. The consequence was that he found himself acting as Nelson's second-in-command against the Danes at the Battle of Copenhagen on 2 April 1801, flying his flag in the 'Defiance', 74 guns, as shown here. The portrait therefore commemorates the final event of Graves's fighting career and a perhaps unexpected coda to it as far as he was concerned, given that he had previously been unemployed for over 25 years. The 1801 version was painted shortly after he returned from Copenhagen and finally retired ashore owing to ill health. It bears a long inscription on the pedestal of the urn -omitted in this version - showing that was included in memory of Graves's wife, who died in December 1795. Northcote was a pupil and assistant of Reynolds and practised portraiture at Plymouth until 1777, when he went to Italy to study before settling in London in 1781.

Object Details

ID: BHC2722
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Northcote, James
Date made: 1801-02; 1802
People: Graves, Thomas; King William IV Northcote, James
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Measurements: Painting: 1790 x 1360 mm; Frame size tbc

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