A story in 100 objects

14: Portrait of the 4th Earl

This large portrait of William Henry, 4th Earl of Mount Edgcumbe was painted by Alexander Stanhope-Forbes who has been dubbed ‘the Father of the Newlyn School’. Born in Dublin and educated in London and Paris Stanhope-Forbes settled in Newlyn, Cornwall where with is fellow artists he established the town’s reputation as the centre of a new wave of European art. He is renowned for painting his subjects out of doors in their ordinary working clothes but he also painted a number of portraits.

This portrait was commissioned by Cornwall County Council and presented to the Earl in 1905 in recognition of his service as Chairman of the County Council since 1888. It depicts him in the robes he wore at the coronation of King Edward VII.

The 4th Earl was a fascinating character. He was chosen by Queen Victoria as a companion to the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. The two became firm friends, with members of the Edgcumbe family attending many royal and society events as well as official ones. The Prince and other members of the Royal family regularly joined shooting and weekend parties at Mount Edgcumbe. One of the earliest visits made by King Edward VII and his Queen following his coronation was to Mount Edgcumbe.

The Earl was an active member of the House of Lords. He championed education and the nursing profession both locally and nationally. Official records along with articles and letters written by the Earl show that he understood the social changes taking place during the early years of the 20th century and that he could be both outspoken and witty.

At heart William Henry was a man committed to his family and his estate. A widower since 1874, his second marriage in 1906 lasted only 3 years before his second wife died. The response of the estate workers to both events show how highly he was regarded. William Henry was artistic, writing poetry and articles, taking photographs and painting in watercolour. In later life he drew sketches to amuse his grandchildren.

“The Earl was an active member of the House of Lords. He championed education and the nursing profession both locally and nationally.

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