The Honble Augustus Keppel Admiral of the Blue, and Commander in Chief of a Squadron of His Majesty's Ships, Employed
A printing plate engraved with a bust-length portrait of Augustus Keppel (1725–1786). For an impression taken from this plate, see PAH5415. This plate was engraved in mezzotint by William Doughty after an original painting by Joshua Reynolds, who was a lifelong friend of the sitter and painted his portrait many times. There are two versions of the painting – one in the National Maritime Museum (see BHC2820), the other in the National Portrait Gallery. Both versions were painted around 1765. At least one version of the portrait remained in Reynolds’s studio for several years. It was still in the artist’s possession in 1779, when it was engraved in mezzotint. The catalyst for the engraving of the painting was Keppel’s acquittal in February 1779 following a high-profile court martial into his conduct at the Battle of Ushant the previous July. The result of the battle was inconclusive, giving rise to a bitter dispute between Keppel, who had commanded the British fleet during the action, and his second-in-command Hugh Palliser over what had gone wrong. The whole affair was politically charged, for Keppel had the support of the opposition Whigs whereas Palliser was backed by the Tory government. Keppel’s trial generated massive public support for the opposition and his acquittal was greeted with widespread popular celebrations. Reynolds wrote to congratulate his friend Keppel on the acquittal, commenting that he had “taken the liberty, without waiting for leave, to lend your picture to an engraver”. The artist was apparently eager to profit from Keppel’s sudden fame by circulating prints after his portrait. He hired his own pupil, William Doughty, to engrave the picture. Doughty published some impressions of the print himself (see PAH5415). Other impressions were issued, with an amended publication line, by William Dickinson and Thomas Watson (see PAH5416). (Updated April 2019.)
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