Charles, Second Earl Grey (1764-1845) thumbnail 1
Not currently on display at the V&A

Charles, Second Earl Grey (1764-1845)

Oil Painting
ca. 1826 (painted)
Place Of Origin

Three-quarter face portrait of a man with a receding hair-line looking out of the canvas to face the viewer. He wears a high collared, white, buttoned shirt and dark jacket.

object details
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil on canvas
Brief Description
Oil painting on canvas depicting a portrait of Charles, Second Earl Grey (1764-1845) by John Jackson. Great Britain, ca. 1826
Physical Description
Three-quarter face portrait of a man with a receding hair-line looking out of the canvas to face the viewer. He wears a high collared, white, buttoned shirt and dark jacket.
  • Estimate height: 30in
  • Estimate width: 25in
Dimensions taken from Summary catalogue of British Paintings, Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973
Credit line
Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857
Object history
Given by John Sheepshanks, 1857.

Extract from Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xviii.

John Sheepshanks (1784-1863) was the son of a wealthy cloth manufacturer. He entered the family business, but his early enthusiasms were for gardening and the collecting of Dutch and Flemish prints. He retired from business at the age of 40, by which time he had begun collecting predominantly in the field of modern British art. He told Richard Redgrave RA, then a curator in the South Kensington Museum (later the V&A) of his intention to give his collection to the nation. The gallery built to house the collection was the first permanent structure on the V&A site, and all concerned saw the Sheepshanks Gift as forming the nucleus of a National Gallery of British Art. Sheepshanks commissioned works from contemporary artists, bought from the annual RA summer exhibitions, but also bought paintings by artists working before Queen Victoria ascended the throne in 1837. The Sheepshanks Gift is the bedrock of the V&A's collection of British oil paintings, and served to encourage many other collectors to make donations and bequests.

Historical significance: Born in Lastingham, North Yorkshire, John Jackson (1787-1831) was first apprenticed to his father as a tailor. His early training as a painter is unknown but it is thought that Jackson received instruction in art from a local school master. He is documented as painting miniatures in York which were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1804. In the same year he was able to enter the Royal Academy Schools through the patronage of Henry Phipps, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755-1831) and patron of the arts Sir George Beaumont, Bart (1753-1827). There he became friends with Benjamin Robert Haydon (1786-1846) and David Wilkie (1785-1841). He was elected ARA in 1815 and RA in 1817. He travelled to the Netherlands in 1816 and to Switzerland and Rome in 1819 with the sculptor and painter Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841). He became a prolific portrait painter. His portraits combine strong applications of paint to create striking likenesses, reflecting the influence of Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) and Henry Raeburn (1756-1823). This interest in portraying individual likenesses has been linked to Jackson’s adherence of Methodism. In fact one of the first portraits he painted was of the Church of England clergyman and founder of Methodism, John Wesley (1703-1791), now untraced.

This portrait is of the Prime Minister Charles, second Earl Grey (1764-1845). Charles Earl Grey was the eldest surviving son of Sir Charles Grey (1729-1807) and his wife Elizabeth (1743-1822) of Howick Hall, Northumberland. He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge where he acquired a talent in Latin and English composition and declamation. This enabled him to become one of the foremost parliamentary orators of his generation. As was often customary during the period, he did not complete his degree. Following being admitted as a student of the Middle Temple in May 1783, he accompanied Henry Duke of Cumberland on a continental tour. In 1794 Grey married Mary Elizabeth (1776-1861), daughter of William Brabazon Ponsonby (1744-1806). While a devoted husband and father to his fifteen children, Grey was known to have a number of affairs with other women during his stays in London. Possibly the most notorious of these liaisons was that with Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire (1757-1806), whom he had met at Devonshire House, the centre of Whig society in London in the 1780s and 1790s. This affair with Gerogiana was a significant step in the process by which Grey became a member of the Whig party, led by Charles James Fox. He was elected a member of parliament in 1786. Although his family was traditionally Tory, Grey's opening speech demonstrated his allegiance to the opposition Whig party. He was to become one of the leading figures of the Whig party. In 1807 the Whig party fell from power and Grey went to the House of Lords, succeeding his father as Earl Grey. The Whigs returned to power in 1830 with Earl Grey as Prime Minister. His ministry saw the reform act of 1832 and the Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833. Having become more conservative, Grey retired from public life in 1841and returned to the family seat of Howick, where he kept a close eye on the policies of the new cabinet under his successor Lord Melbourne (1779-1848). The Earl Grey blend of tea, which is flavoured with bergamot oil, is named after Charles second Earl Grey. A Chinese Mandarin, whose son was rescued from drowning by Earl Grey's men presented as a gift of thanks this tea to Earl Grey in 1803.

This is one of two portraits of Charles Second Earl Grey exhibited by John Jackson at the Royal Academy in 1821 and 1826. The portrait has been identified with that exhibited at the RA in 1826 (number 82) the whereabouts of the earlier portrait is unknown.

In this portrait the sitter is shown against the background of a plain dark red curtain. The fitted cut of his jacket with its deep narrow opening and high collar, above which the collar of the shirt can be seen, suggests a date of the mid 1820s. The sitter is shown facing left in a three-quarter profile, turning to look out at the spectator. His steady stare conveys Grey's confident character and reminds us of his ability as an orator. At the same time it conveys his elevated position as one of the leading figures in society. At the time this portrait was painted Grey was a member of the House of Lords.

There is a mezzotint version of this portrait which was produced by the engraver William James Ward (c.1800-1840) in 1833 (one impression is at the National Portrait Gallery, inventory number D2527). This was a year after Grey's reform act was passed and also the year that Abolition of Slavery throughout the British Empire was passed. These prints after Jackson's portrait would have been mass produced to commemorate the politician. The portrait remained in Jackson's possession and was sold on the second day of his sale 16th July 1831 (Christies, Lot 101) as "Portrait of Earl Grey".
Subject depicted
Accession Number

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record createdMay 17, 2006
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