Nathaniel Hone was among the most celebrated Irish portrait painters of the 18th Century. This heroic double portrait, painted in 1782, towards the end of Hone's career, is among the artist's most original and accomplished works.
General Philip Sherard was the fifth son of Philip Sherard, 2nd Earl of Harborough and Baron Sherard of Leitrim, and his wife Anne, only daughter and heir of Sir Nicholas Pedley. He pursued a career in the army and distinguished himself during the Seven Years War that convulsed Europe, and, on account of European colonial expansion, much of the rest of the world, between 1756 and 1763. In this lengthy conflict Great Britain was allied to Prussia and the Electorate of Brunschwig-Lüneberg, and later Portugal, against the combined might of Austria, France, Russia, Sweden, Saxony, and later Spain. The portrait shows General Sherard at the Battle of Brücke-Mühle, near Amönebourg, in Hesse, on 21 September 1762. General Sherard, who was then Colonel Commandant of the 2nd Battalion of the 1st Regiment of Foot Guards had been responsible for relieving with his battalion a detachment of Hanoverians, who were posted in a redoubt to defend the passage over the River Ohme at the Brücke-Mühle [Bridge Mill], and had come under fierce attack by part of the French army. Accompanying him in the portrait is Captain Tiffin of the Royal Artillery who also played a prominent part in the action. The hill of Amönebourg, at the foot of which the battle was fought, dominates the background of the portrait and the battle is shown raging beyond to the left of the composition. Sherard's obituary in the Gentleman's Magazine commented that he was 'highly esteemed for his bravery' and made particular mention of that he had had 'acquired great credit in the affair of Brucker Mühl'
Nathaniel Hone, who was born in Dublin, had certainly moved to England by 1742 when he married Mary Earle in York, establishing himself in London soon after. While he initially specialised in painting miniatures, from the early 1760s he turned his hand more to life-size portraiture in oil. One of two Irish foundation members of the Royal Academy in 1768 (the other being George Barret), his great rival was Sir Joshua Reynolds whose theory and method he satirized in his famous picture The Conjuror (Dublin, National Gallery). The heroic composition of this portrait seems to be a conscious exercise in competing with his professional adversary but also shows the influence of Reynolds' and Gainbrough's work on his own. Sherard's swaggering pose is reminiscent of the grandeur and drama of many of Reynolds' full-length portraits such as his portrait of Admiral Keppel (London, National Maritime Museum). The portrait can be compared to Hone's portrait of another hero of the Seven Years War Captain the Hon. Boyle Walsingham, dated 1760, which was sold in these rooms on 15 May 2000, as lot 105, although the present portrait, painted twenty two years later, is both larger and more ambitious.
General Sherard died in 1790, unmarried, and the picture remained in the possession of his family at Stapleford Park, until it passed into the collection of the Earls of Lonsdale through the marriage of Lucy, eldest daughter of Philip, 5th Earl of Harborough to Henry Lowther, second son of the 1st Earl of Lonsdale. It remained in the possession of the Lonsdale family until it was sold at Christie's in 1952 by Lancelot, 6th Earl of Lonsdale. At the Christie's sale the portrait was bought by Lord Gretton whose grandfather John Gretton (d. 1899), a successful brewer, had acquired Stapleford Park in 1894. The 1952 Christie's sale included a number of portraits of members of the Sherard family which were presumably inherited by Henry Lowther's wife on the death of her brother Robert Sherard, 6th Earl of Harborough without a male heir, when the earldom and barony of Harborough became extinct.