Sir Thomas Pasley, 1734-1808, Admiral of the White

A half-length portrait of Sir Thomas Pasley, when a rear-admiral, facing to the right in the 1787-95 undress uniform. He wears the gold chain and medal awarded to flag officers engaged at the Battle of the Glorious First of June 1794, in which he flew his flag as a recently promoted rear-admiral in the 'Bellerophon' and lost his left leg below the knee. This portrait seems to have painted in late 1794 or early 1795, since it shows Pasley wearing undress uniform of the 1787-95 pattern, which was replaced by a new pattern on 1 June 1795. However, the artist must have added the medal at a later date, for, although flag officers received their gold chains in 1794, the actual medals were not ready until 1796. The medal was added to the portrait before it was engraved as a mezzotint (published February 1797, see PAG6456). This was the first time that official medals were awarded to naval officers for participation in a particular battle. Flag officers received larger medals on chains, as exemplified by the one in this portrait, whereas captains received smaller medals on blue and white ribbons. Similar medals were subsequently awarded for later actions in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, except that the chain for flag officer’s medals was replaced with a blue and ribbon, like the one used for the captains medals. Chained medals are therefore highly rare, having been awarded for the Glorious First of June only. Pasley's fighting career had begun as a lieutenant in the Seven Years War and continued through the War of American Independence. He was Commodore in the Medway in 1788 and was promoted rear-admiral in April 1794. In 1798 he became Commander-in-Chief at the Nore and in 1799 at Plymouth, which was his last service. There is what appears to be another version of this portrait in Scotland, in possession of the Annan Museum Museum (Dumfries and Galloway Council). There is also has a miniature based on it by Horace Hone (MNT0085). All are fairly rare images of the chained medal, although there are many showing officers who later received them on ribbon, notably Nelson. There is also a fine caricature by Rowlandson showing Pasley in one of his last shore-based roles, as 'The Tough Old Commodore' (PAF5936). Abbott, the artist who produced this portrait, had established his first studio in London around 1780. He painted relatively few women and seems to have specialised in male portraiture, finding particular favour among naval officers. Standing unsuccessfully for election as an Associate of the Royal Academy in 1788 and again in 1798, Abbott failed to gain admission to the inner circles of the artistic establishment but he was recognised for his remarkable skill in capturing likenesses. In his ‘Anecdotes of Painting’ (1808), Edward Edwards wrote that ‘the heads of [Abbott’s] male portraits were perfect in their likenesses, particularly those which he painted from the naval heroes of the present time.’ Suffering from mental illness, Abbott was certified insane in July 1798 and died in what was described by the diarist Joseph Farington as ‘a state of insanity’ in 1803. (Updated April 2019.)

Object Details

ID: BHC2941
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Abbott, Lemuel Francis
Date made: 1795; 1795-1796 1795-96 1796
People: Pasley, Thomas
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Frame: 894 mm x 763 mm x 80 mm;Painting: 765 x 638 x 20 mm

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