Vice-Admiral Sir Edward Hughes, 1716-94

(Updated, October 2018) A full-length portrait slightly to left in vice-admiral's full-dress uniform, 1783–87, with the star and ribbon of the Order of the Bath and a white wig. His right hand rests on a long, tasselled cane and also holds orders clearly inscribed to him as Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies, 1778–83: 'On His Majesty's [Service] to Sir Edward Hughes, KB Commander-in-Chief of His Majesty's Ships ordered to sail [to be] employed in the East Indies'. In the left background are his flagship, 'Superb', 74 guns, and another British ship at anchor. The uniform is the new type of flag officer's full dress, with its distinctive pattern of lace authorized in 1783 and which only lasted four years.

Hughes was promoted lieutenant for his services under Admiral Edward Vernon at Porto Bello in 1740. He was later with Mathews when he blockaded Toulon in 1744 and Boscawen at Louisbourg in 1758, where he commanded the 'Somerset', 64 guns, and in which he also served under Sir Charles Saunders at the taking of Quebec in 1759. He remained in that ship until 1762, latterly in the Mediterranean, and later had a further short period in it. Hughes, as a Commodore, was appointed Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies in 1773 and after a fairly quiet few years returned to England in 1778, only to be sent out again as Rear-Admiral of the Blue, and as a Knight of the Bath in 1779 with his flag in the 'Superb', 74 guns. On the way he took Goree in West Africa from the French, and in India had to face a rising French threat as allies of Britain's rebellious American colonists. This led in 1782-83 to his five hard-fought actions with the Bailli de Suffren - the most tenacious French admiral of the period - off eastern India and Ceylon. In these neither side took a ship nor achieved a decisive advantage, although de Suffren had the best of it strategically. Hughes was in fact by then on his third tour in India, since in 1782 his relief - the elder Sir Hyde Parker - was lost with all hands in the 'Cato' on his way out there. When the war ended the following year Hughes consequently returned home immensely rich from prize money and other perquisites, though he subsequently lived in unshowy retirement. He married twice, in 1753 and then in 1765, on both occasions to widows, and had no children of his own. Captain Henry Ball (1754-92) elder son of his apparently already twice-widowed second wife, Mrs Ruth Ball (but Mrs Wheeler by the time they married), became his first lieutenant and then flag captain in the 'Superb' in 1779-81. His pose in this portrait, holding a letter and facing left, may have been chosen to complement that of the earlier full-length of him as a captain by Violante Siries (BHC2793), in which he looks right and also holds one. He sat for that in Florence in 1761, while at Leghorn in the 'Somerset'. This painting seems to have been completed in 1786 since John Jones's mezzotint from it (PAJ2598) was published in December that year.

ReynoIds was trained from 1740 by Thomas Hudson (1701–90), before early practice in his native Plymouth. Study in Italy (1749-52) launched him as a London portrait painter, with a style that was seen as fresh and new by showing fashionable modern sitters in compositions based on classical old masters. He was first President of the Royal Academy from 1768 and was knighted in 1769. Hughes, an Admiral of the Blue at his death in 1794, left this portrait and a set of eight paintings of his Indian actions by Serres to Greenwich Hospital, though informally through his widow since they are not in his will. An adjusted half-length copy of it with him in the 1787-95 uniform was also left to the Hospital in 1796 by its Governor, Admiral Sir Hugh Palliser, but in 1835 went to Ipswich in an exchange also involving all but one (BHC0448) of Hughes's Serres paintings. They are still at Ipswich.

Object Details

ID: BHC2792
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Reynolds, Joshua
Date made: 1786; 1786-87
People: Hughes, Edward
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Measurements: Painting: 2390 x 1485 mm;Frame: 2740 mm x 1780 mm x 160 mm

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