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David Allan (1744-1796)
Portrait of Sir William and Lady Hamilton
1770
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This intimate portrait of Sir William Hamilton and his first wife Catherine (the only known image of the first Lady Hamilton), was painted by David Allan.  Born in Scotland in 1744, Allan studied in Glasgow until he received funds from several of his patrons, including Sir William Hamilton’s sister Lady Cathcart, which allowed him to travel to Italy to study.  It is thought that he reached Rome by 1767 and made several trips to Naples where he was introduced to Sir William Hamilton by Lady Cathcart. Sir William was so impressed by David Allan that he described him as “one of the greatest geniuses I have ever met with;  he is indefatigable.” (T. Crouther Gordon, David Allan, 1951, p.22).

Leaving British politics and a seat in parliament, Hamilton took up the post of British Envoy in Naples in 1764, when doctors warned that his wife’s ill health would deteriorate further in the damp English climate.

The Hamiltons are shown informally seated in the balcony room of their villa in Posillipo, surrounded by many of Sir William’s favourite items; the altar from Capri at his elbow (now in the collection of the British Museum, presented to them by Hamilton in 1775), his violin, a small scale copy of his favourite painting, Corregio’s Venus Disarming Cupid, hanging above his head, and a view of Mount Vesuvius through the window.  Hamilton was a dedicated student of volcanic activity in Southern Italy and a regular onlooker at volcanic eruptions, along with many other tourists who, despite the danger, often visited the volcano to watch the eruptions.

Although this painting is signed and dated 1770, Sir William wears the Star of the Order of the Bath, which he did not receive until 1772.  It is thought that Allan made this alteration during a brief visit to London in 1773, before delivering the painting.

Ask your pupils to think about the sorts of activities they do as a family.

<empty> Challenge your pupils to create an image of themselves and include things which represent their interests.
David Allan, Portrait of Sir William and Lady Hamilton, 1770
Materials and technique: Oil on copper
Dimensions: 45 x 57 cm
Compton Verney: CVCSC:0357.B
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