Captain George Porter, 1789
Oil on canvas
91 x 56 1/2 in. (231.1 x 143.5 cm)
In 1789, Hoppner was appointed Portrait Painter to the Prince of Wales, the future king George IV. His association with the "Prince of Wales set" - the fashionable crowd gathered around the Prince - helped his already flourishing career. But it made many of his rivals extremely bitter. Some even claimed that Hoppner enjoyed royal favoritism because he was the illegitimate son of George III. Whether Captain George Porter (1760-1828) was a member of the "Prince of Wales set" is not known, but he certainly had the right sort of background. His father was the British ambassador to Constantinople, capital of the Ottoman Empire, and his mother was daughter of the 2nd Baron de Hochepied, the Dutch ambassador to the city. As a young man Porter decided on a career in the army. A captain at the date of Hoppner's portrait, he ultimately reached the rank of lieutenant general. In 1819, he succeeded to the title of Baron de Hochepied.
The painting refers to Porter's childhood in Constantinople, a view of which can be seen in the background. The magnificent domed building visible above his left hand is the sixth-century church of Hagia Sophia, one of the earliest masterpieces of Christian architecture. The minarets surrounding the dome were added after the church was made into a mosque in 1453. Through his choice of costume, Porter may also have been making a fashion statement: dressing in a Turkish manner was fashionable among the English aristocracy. It also seems he wanted to emphasize his noble lineage and his status as the son of a leading diplomat: the pointing index finger is a deliberate gesture of aristocratic affectation.
Christie's, London, June 23, 1933, lot 119 (as Portrait of the Hon. Basil Cochrane, second son of Alexander, 9th Earl Dundonald by G. Stuart); private collection, U.S.; Sotheby's, New York, January 30, 1997, lot 54
W. McKay and W. Roberts, John Hoppner, RA, 1909, p. 210; Press Cuttings 1685-1835, Vol. II, p. 415 (National Art Library, Victoria and Albert Museum, London); J. H. Wilson, "The Life and Work of John Hoppner (1758-1810)," University of London, unpublished doctoral thesis, 1992
See Artist Profile