Pompeo Batoni, Italian, 1708-1787
Title: Portrait of Joseph Leeson, later 1st Earl of Milltown (1711-1783)
Date: 1744
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
135.5 x 98.5 cm
Signed: centre right: Pompeo.Batoni.Pinse.Roma.1744
Credit Line: Milltown Gift, 1902
Object Number: NGI.701
DescriptionWhile construction was underway of his Palladian country house in Russborough, County Wicklow, Leeson set off on his Grand Tour to broaden his education and acquire artworks for his new home. His background was unusual, being the fourth generation of a Dublin family who had gained enormous wealth from a brewery on St Stephen’s Green and even more from land speculation in the area. Some never accepted Leeson’s sudden rise to nobility, gaining titles as he went, which culminated in an earldom in 1763. Batoni shows him in a fur hat and fur-lined surcoat, against a cascading curtain and column base, Leeson’s features endowed with an air of nobility and the sweep of his hand adding a certain dignity. The predominance of red and green add to the strength of the composition. Batoni was not the obvious choice for the artist, being at this date an established history painter but nothing more. Although an earlier Irish commission is recorded, this remains his first dated portrait of a Grand Tourist. He later included views and sculpture of antique Rome in the background of his portraits, rather than a general reference to a palatial building, as here. At Russborough he hung his portrait in the dining room, enhanced by its carved gilt frame.

March 2016
Label TextJoseph Leeson was the fourth generation of a Dublin family that had gained great wealth from brewing and land speculation. While building Russborough House in Blessington, Co. Wicklow, he made the first of two trips to Italy to broaden his education and acquire art. During these Grand Tours, Leeson commissioned the Roman artist Batoni to paint his portrait. Batoni depicted him, wearing a fur hat and fur-lined surcoat, in front of a cascading curtain and column base. Leeson’s features have been endowed with an air of nobility and sophistication.