The sitter, an eminent Whig politician, was the eighth of nine children of Thomas Pelham, 1st Baron Pelham of Laughton (c. 1653-1712) and his second wife, Lady Grace Holles (1668/9-1700), daughter of Gilbert Holles, 3rd Earl of Clare. Having studied at Westminster School and Hart Hall, Oxford, Pelham served as a volunteer against the Jacobites at Preston in 1715, and was subsequently a Member of Parliament for Seaford, 1717, and afterwards for Sussex, 1722 until his death. In 1726, Pelham married Lady Catherine Manners, eldest daughter of John, 2nd Duke of Rutland. A consistent supporter in Parliament of Robert Walpole, Pelham entered the ministry as Secretary at War in 1725, and was made Paymaster of the Forces in 1730. In 1742, a union of parties resulted in the formation of an administration in which Pelham became Prime Minister the following year, in addition, Pelham held the offices of First Lord of the Treasury, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Leader of the House of Commons.
This painting is one of several autograph versions of nearly uniform quality and appearance: another is at the National Portrait Gallery, London (given by W. Jones Lloyd in 1866); and others were recorded by Kerslake at Rockingham Castle and in the collection of Lord Rosebery (op. cit). The National Portrait Gallery painting is the only dated version, '1751', which is consistent with Houston's engraving of the portrait type (dated 1752) and with Vertue's comment in June 1752 that '...this spring...Mr Hoar[sic]...removd[sic] to London to paint the pictures of several noble Men (his principal employment in Town has been to draw the pictures of Hon. Mr Pelham...)' (Vertue, III, p. 161, cited in Kerslake, op. cit.).
Hoare had set up studio in the expanding spa town of Bath in 1737, where the constant influx of distinguished visitors provided him with a constant stream of portrait commissions. In 1752, Hoare made a tour of France and the Netherlands before returning to London in the service of the Pelham family. While in London he became a member of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce (Society of Arts), and later, in 1769, became a founder member of the Royal Academy at the King's request. Hoare painted other key political figures, most notably, William Pitt the Elder (c. 1754; London, National Portrait Gallery).
We are grateful to Evelyn Newby for confirming the attribution on the basis of a photograph.