This highly engaging portrait was painted in 1734 while the sitter, Thomas Western, was attending university at Clare Hall, Cambridge, where he had been since 1731. He is shown seated in a comfortably furnished panelled room, wearing the robes of a Fellow- Commoner, a rank that allowed him to dine at the Fellow’s table. This likeness seems to have been made for Western’s friend, the Rev. William Cole (1714-1782), the distinguished antiquary, who attended Cambridge at the same time and who also became a Fellow-Commoner in 1735. The painting seems to have been given by Western to Cole as a present upon the sitter’s leaving Cambridge to marry Anne Callis in 1735. The work, described by Cole in a letter to John Nichols, dated 6 May 1781, as ‘a full length picture…which I now have in my gallery…one of the most resembling portraits I ever met with’ (Nichols and Bowyer, op cit., p. 663), remained in his collection until his death. In Cole’s will he bequeathed to 'the grandson of me ever esteemed friend…his grandfather’s picture by Mr. Hogarth, if he pleases to accept it and send for it’ (Palmer, op. cit., p. 29). The portrait remained in the family until it was sold at Christie’s in 1913.
The sitter was the son of Thomas Western (d. 1733), MP for Sudbury in Suffolk, and his wife Mary Shirley. The Westerns of Rivenhall, Essex, were among the emerging middle-classes of the early eighteenth century, having made their fortune as foundry masters of government ordnance and timber suppliers to the navy. The sitter and his family were also the subject of Hogarth’s conversation piece, The Western Family, painted in 1738 and now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.
We are grateful to Elizabeth Einberg, who will be including the picture in her forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist, for her assistance with this entry.