Georgian Faces: Portrait of a County

Thomas Beach (1738-1806),  Rebecca Steward (1766-1859), 1783, © DCM

Thomas Beach (1738-1806),
Rebecca Steward (1766-1859), 1783, © DCM

Dorset County Museum is proud to announce an important exhibition, Georgian Faces: Portrait of a County, which opened on 15th January 2011.  It includes over sixty, mostly previously unseen, portraits of the people who shaped Dorset during the eighteenth century.

The catalyst for the exhibition was provided by the Museum’s recent acquisition of George Romney’s portrait of the Reverend Thomas Rackett as a young boy; a purchase made possible by the generosity of the Art Fund, HLF South West and local support.

For the past year, curator Gwen Yarker (formerly of the National Maritime Museum) has been selecting portraits for the exhibition from all over Dorset and further afield.  Some paintings are coming on loan from national institutions, but the majority come from private collections.

  • The exhibition shows portraits by many of the important portrait artists of the eighteenth century, including Sir Joshua Reynolds, George Romney, Thomas Gainsborough and Allan Ramsay. The exhibition also throws a spotlight on Thomas Beach, who was born at Milton Abbas, Dorset, trained with Reynolds and worked as a portrait painted in London, Bath and the West Country.
  • The exhibition provides the first opportunity for William Hogarth’s portrait of Thomas Coombes, a Dorset boatman aged 108, to be exhibited for over 100 years. Hogarth’s father-in-law, the famous decorative painter Sir James Thornhill, was a native of the county who retired to Dorset in the 1720s.
  • George III visited Weymouth for his health following his first attack of porphyria. From 1789 to 1805 he regularly stayed in the town essentially requiring the court to relocate to the Dorset coast every year. From the 1790s the threat of invasion meant a local volunteer force was created. Portraits of several of its officers painted by Dorset-born Thomas Beach feature in the exhibition.
  •  Portraits of Poole’s merchant princes reveal the riches gained from cod fishing and fur trading with Newfoundland.  A highlight is Thomas Frye’s unpublished portrait of rich Poole merchant Sir Peter Thompson, now in Poole Museum. Thompson’s portrait came to light when Gwen Yarker was cataloguing in Dorset for the Public Catalogue Foundation.
  • The exhibition shows that Dorset was not an isolated rural county, but that many of its residents, especially the Reverend Thomas Rackett and his circle, brought the latest thinking, ideas and intellectual developments in London to rural centres such as Blandford. They in turn returned to the capital with their local discourses in natural philosophy, antiquarianism and archaeology.
  • Georgian Faces also includes a series of cut-out silhouettes produced by George III’s daughter, Princess Elizabeth, during her friendship with local diarist and botanist Mary Frampton.

Exhibition curator Gwen Yarker comments :

“ This is a wonderfully collaborative project incorporating so many people including local and national museums, private lenders, sponsors, local businesses and a huge army of enthusiastic volunteers.”

“The little known portrait of Dorset boatman, Thomas Coombes, aged 108 painted by William Hogarth in 1742 powerfully contrasts with those of the aristocrats, landowners and merchants in the exhibition.”

“With a budget of only £1000 we are enormously indebted to our sponsors Axa Art Insurance Limited, Duke’s of Dorchester, Fine Art Auctioneers, Farrow & Ball, R. K. Harrison Group Limited, Humphries Kirk, as well as trusts. Without their support this remarkable exhibition would not have been possible.”“With an emphasis on the importance of the sitters the exhibition offers a wonderful variety of portrait loans from local museums, national institutions with over 40, many previously unseen, from private collections, all telling the story of Dorset in the eighteenth century.”

The exhibition is being generously supported by local businesses including R.K.Harrison in partnership with AXA Art, HY Duke & Sons of Dorchester, Humphries Kirk and Farrow & Ball, several trusts and private donors. NADFAS is also generously supporting the exhibition, through both the Wessex region and the local Dorset County association based in Dorchester. Its team of volunteers who look after the museum’s art collection are all very much involved in researching, designing and many other aspects of the exhibition.

A fully illustrated catalogue of the exhibition written by exhibition curator, Gwen Yarker, is available with a foreword by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall and funded by the Centre for British Studies in Art.

Georgian Faces: Portrait of a County A new exhibition at Dorset County Museum runs from 15th January to 30th April 2011

For further information contact the Museum on 01305 262735 or check the website on