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Between and Mortarboard

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Sir Foster Cunliffe, 3rd Bt. of Acton Park, Wrexham, Denbighshire

Accession Number

Sir Foster Cunliffe, 3rd Bt. of Acton Park, Wrexham, Denbighshire

John Hoppner

Artist Nationality
British (modern)

Object Creation Date
circa 1787-1810

Medium & Support
oil on canvas

105 1/2 in x 69 1/2 in x 5 in (267.97 cm x 176.53 cm x 12.7 cm);105 1/2 in x 69 1/2 in x 5 in (267.97 cm x 176.53 cm x 12.7 cm);94 in x 58 1/2 in (238.76 cm x 148.59 cm)

Credit Line
Museum purchase made possible by the Margaret Watson Parker Art Collection Fund

Label copy
March 28, 2009
This impressive portrait of Sir Foster Cunliffe (1755–1834) in an outdoor setting, most likely his estate, Acton Park, speaks eloquently to the sitter’s rank and interests. Cunliffe stands silhouetted against the sky in a wooded landscape that opens in the distance to a broad vista, his head and pale hair framed by the foliage of the nearby trees. It was traditional in British portraiture for the aristocratic patron to be depicted on his property; this confirmed his status as a wealthy landowner. He is also dressed in the uniform of the Royal Society of British Bowmen, an archery association—open to both women and men—that he established in 1787, the same year he purchased Acton Park; through this detail, Hoppner makes reference to two important aspects of Cunliffe’s life.
Sir Foster Cunliffe was a descendant of two generations of slave traders based in Liverpool. His grandfather, Foster Cunliffe, was one of the most active slavers in Liverpool (and served as its mayor), a city responsible for more than forty percent of the European slave trade. Sir Foster seems to have taken pains to conceal this history: he never accounted for how the family amassed its fortune.

Subject matter
Hoppner grew up in the court of King George II, even rummored to be his illegitimate son, and became an important potrait painter for the British aristocracy. After painting a potrait of the Baron's wife, Lady Cunliffe (1781-82, National Gallery of Art), Hoppner depicted Sir Foster Cunliffe at the hunt. Here, Cunliffe wears the uniform of the Royal Society of British Bowmen, a group he founded in 1787. This group was relatively progressive for the time period, as they included women among their membership. Cunliffe is shown in the picturesque landscape of his recently-acquired, titled estate (1785) Acton Park in Denbighshire, near Wrexham. His family's fortune came from trade, including participation in the slave trade before it was outlawed in Britain. Hoppner painted this portrait around the time that he was appointed as the official portrait painter to the Prince of Wales.

Physical Description
A full-length portrait of a standing male in a lanscape setting. To the left of the composition stands a pair of birches near the figure; to the right, the landscape opens up to a distant expanse of trees and hills. The man stands facing to the right but looking out of the canvas to the left. He holds a bow and quiver of arrows; a black hat with a feather is on the ground at his feet. He is dressed in tan pants and waistcoat with a green frock coat and black boots.

Primary Object Classification

Primary Object Type

Collection Area

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aristocracy (social class)
oil painting (technique)
slaves (people)

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