Captain Edward Hughes, 1716-94

(Updated, September 2019) A full-length portrait very slightly to left and facing to right wearing captain's, over three years, full-dress uniform 1748-67. His hat is under his left arm and in his right hand he holds a letter inscribed 'Captain Hughes on the Somerset att Quebec'. He stands on a quay with his ship in bow view in the left background.

From 7 October to 8 December 1761 Hughes was at the Italian port of Leghorn (Livorno) in the 'Somerset', which he had commanded since 1757 including at Wolfe's taking of Quebec in 1759. He clearly took the opportunity to visit nearby Florence and sat there for this portrait by Violante Beatrice Siries (1709-83), who was daughter of Louis Siries, a French gem-engraver, hardstone-carver and goldsmith who worked in Italy, and was also known by her married name of Madame Cerroti. She was initially a pupil of Giovanna Fratellini (1666-1731), a Florentine lady academician, pastellist and court painter to Grand Princess Violante Beatrix von Bayern, the wife of Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici and after his death in 1713 herself the governor of Siena. Siries was named after the princess, later studied in Paris under Hyacinthe Rigaud and from 1731 succeeded Fratellini as a Medici court painter. This highly stylized portrait shows her fascination for the elaborate detailing of Hughes's naval uniform: by contrast the representation of the ‘Somerset’ is poor, even for a painter not specialising in ships. It is inscribed 'Violante Betrix Siries / de Cerrotis fecit Florenine / anno 1761' on a stone lying below Hughes's left hand on the edge of the quay.

Siries appears to have done a smaller head-and-shoulders version for Hughes at the same time (since it is also reported as signed and dated 1761 on the back). The only differences are a dark background and that he is shown holding a telescope in his right hand. He may have ordered that one as a potential gift and it is likely both canvases were shipped to England together for him on completion, as the case with many other 'Grand Tour' artworks and antiquities collected in Italy at the time. Francesco Moucke's 1762 commentary on portraitists represented in the 'Galleria Imperiale', Florence, specifically mentions the full-length as one of three fine examples of Siries' work and the one 'ultimamente partiti in Inghilterra' ('lately gone to England'). Since it is still in a fine Italian carved poplar frame, presumed to be original, that was probably supplied at the same time.

The small version is now owned by the National Trust at Tredegar House, Newport, South Wales, but was long identifed, to September 2019, as of Captain George Stoney (born before c.1742 - d.1786) although the error was first pointed out by the NMM in 1978. Identical likeness aside, Stoney was a captain of 1781 so never wore the 1748-67 uniform. How and when it was mistaken for him is unknown but no doubt because he became part of the Morgan family tree through the marriage, in 1791, of his daughter Mary Margaret to Sir Charles Morgan, 2nd baronet of Tredegar (1760-1846). It was his eldest grandson by that marriage (another Charles) who later became 3rd baronet and then 1st baron Tredegar.

The full-length was acquired from the 6th baron Tredegar, via Christie's in 1961, and the Hughes connection is via Jane [Gould] Morgan (1759-1846), elder sister of Sir Charles, 2nd baronet, who in 1782 married Captain Henry Ball RN (1754-92). On 7 November 1765 the latter became stepson of Hughes – and in 1779-81 was first lieutenant then captain of his flagship 'Superb' in India – through Hughes's second marriage to Ball's mother Ruth (1731-1800) at St Margaret's, Westminster. Her surname is given in the register as Wheeler and stated to be a widow, apparently for the second time, though there is no record of either a Ball or Wheeler marriage, or her maiden name. Hughes's first wife from 1753 (Mrs Ann Peters, nee Jacob, widow of Dr Charles Peters, d. 1746) died in childbirth in January 1755 at what was previously the
Peters house in Ealing, before he went back to sea in 1756 after over five years ashore. He had no children of his own by either marriage, eventually leaving all his property, apart from minor gifts, to Ruth for her disposal. This does not explain why the misidentification of the smaller version of the portrait has lasted so long, given that the full-length also belonged to the Morgans and lacks so-far known record of also being mistaken for Stoney. It too probably arrived at Tredegar via the Ball link: for after Captain Ball died in 1792 his widow, Jane, remarried in 1793 to Samuel Homfray of Merthyr Tydfil and Pennydarren, Glamorgan, coal owner and iron-master. This facilitated favourable terms for Homfray leasing mineral land on the Tredegar estate from her father, Sir Samuel Morgan, 1st baronet (d. 1806), on which he built the Tredegar Ironworks. Lady Hughes died, aged 69, in September 1800 and even if both versions of the portrait were then still with her, that is when they are likely to have passed to her son's widow Jane as most closely relevant family member to have them, though Ruth Hughes's will also shows that Jane and Henry Ball had a daughter, Mary. It is also possible that Hughes himself had already given one, probably the smaller, to Henry directly. In short, though exact details of how they reached the Morgan/Tredegar family are lacking, the connection between the two portraits, and their likely course there either separately or together by shortly after 1800 is one of personal links. They are also the only known examples by Siries in UK public holdings.

Hughes saw long service in 1773-78, and again in 1779-83, as Commander-in-Chief in the East Indies, most of this during the War of American Independence. He was knighted in 1778 and in its later stages fought five hard actions against the French off India (1782-83). He returned home immensely rich from the perquisites of the command, but lived in unshowy retirement thereafter. His substantial figure when an admiral appears in Sir Joshua Reynolds's later portrait of 1786 in the Greenwich Hospital collection (BHC2972). This too shows him full length holding a letter, turned to viewer's left, a pose perhaps chosen to complement the present picture. While recorded as 'The bequest of the Admiral to Greenwich Hospital' it is not mentioned in his will and is presumed to have been an informal one via his widow.
Both of them and her two Ball sons are buried at Lambourne, Essex, where Hughes's inscription gives his age at death on 17 January 1794 as 77. Given that he was an eldest child and his parents married in July 1715 he is likely to have been born in 1716.

Object Details

ID: BHC2793
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Siries, Violante Beatrice
Date made: 1761
People: Hughes, Edward
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Frame: 2400 mm x 1780 mm x 120 mm;Painting: 2085 x 1450 mm

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