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Stephen Slaughter 1697-1765
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Stephen Slaughter 1697-1765

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Three-quarter length portrait of Francis Whyte of Redhills, County Cavan, sitting on a carved giltwood chair, leaning on his elbow on a consol table draped with a blue-grey curtain, dressed in a blue coat and richly embroidered waistcoat.


Oil painting on canvas 50 x 40 inches, and contained in a fine contemporary Irish carved frame


Provenance: By descent from the sitter (died 1778) to his youngest sister Anne who married John White (sic) of Rathgonan; her son Frances Whyte; his son Francis Melville Whyte (1801-1833) who devised his entire estate to his niece Georgiana Enderby, daughter of his younger sister Mary, who married Captain Samuel Enderby of the 5th Dragoons; she assumed the surname and arms of Whyte and married (1847) the Rev. Edmund Burke Whyte-Venables (1822-1894) and died 1904, devising her estate to her nephew Rev. Arthur Whyte-Venables of Redhills (1851-1929) and thence by descent, more recently in Sussex.


Stephen Slaughter was baptised on 13 January 1697 at St Paul's, Covent Garden, London, one of the five children of Stephen and Judith Slaughter. He is first recorded in autumn 1712 studying at Sir Godfrey Kneller's academy in Great Queen Street, London. Soon afterwards he departed for the continent, where he lived for seventeen years, first in Paris and then in Flanders. By 1733 he was back in London but promptly left for Dublin, where he painted Nathaniel Kane, lord mayor of Dublin, a portrait known from an engraving by John Brooks of 1734. Having returned to London he lived in Bloomsbury Square and set up a successful portrait practice, which attracted many notable patrons, such as Sir Hans Sloane (portrait, 1736, NPG). Slaughter's style is meticulous and exacting, with a particular attention to the detail of dress; Vertue praised him for painting this himself rather than using a costume painter (Vertue, Note books, 3. 111). He painted and copied a number of oils and pastels in the late 1730s for the Spencer family at Althorp, Northamptonshire, including The Hon. John Spencer (1736; priv. coll.) and two of his most ambitious works, The Hon. John Spencer and Lady Georgiana Spencer (1737; priv. coll.). In 1742 he painted Sir Robert Walpole (priv. coll.) and in 1747 the latter's son, Edward, and grandchildren (Minneapolis Institute of Arts). He is known to have bought a number of old masters at the sale of Walpole's collection in 1751.

In 1742 a malicious spoof appeared in the London Evening-Post (21–3 October), possibly by an envious Hogarth, stating that Slaughter, then living in Rathbone Place, had received a knighthood from the king for a painting of his son Frederick, prince of Wales. Slaughter did, however, go on to achieve high office in 1745, when he succeeded Parry Walton as surveyor and keeper of the king's pictures, a post that he held until his death, with a salary of £300 per annum.


In the 1740s he returned to Dublin, where he had ‘great business’ (Vertue, Note books, 3.123), examples of which survive in many Irish country houses. John Hoadley, Bishop of Armagh (1744; NG Ire.) is a fine example of his work in Ireland at this period. During this decade he is the finest portrait painter working in Ireland, rivalled only – and occasionally – by James Latham.


By the 1750s Slaughter was again in London, but there are few recorded works during this period, Sir George Lee (1753; Tate collection) being an exception. He retired to Kensington and lived with his brother, Edward, and three sisters, Catherine, Judith, and Mary, at Church Court. He died there, apparently unmarried, on 15 May 1765 and was buried on 22 May at the church of St Mary Abbots, Kensington. Judith Lewis had married the portrait- and scene-painter John Lewis, and was herself a distinguished painter of equestrian conversation-pieces and trompe-l'oeil still-lives.


Francis Whyte was descended from an old Bedfordshire family whose property was at Tuddington. He was the great-grandson of Francis Whyte who had been Secretary of State to Lord Deputy Grandison temp. Elizabeth I. He was appointed Sheriff of County Cavan on 3rd February 1741, a post which was the judicial representative of the Crown in the County. His family seat in Ireland was at Redhills (Irish: An Cnoc Rua) in the most northerly part of the county, in the parish of Annagh, and about two miles from Belturbet. He died unmarried in 1778 (will of 1775 proved 1779) and devised his property and estate at Redhills to his nephew, only son of his sister Ann by John White Esq. of Rathgonan and Loughgill, Co. Limerick, son of John White of Rathgonan by Ellen his wife, fifth daughter of Major Gerald FitzGerald, MP., Knight of Glin. Francis Whyte is buried in the family vault at Redhills church, where there is a memorial inscription.1


It is possible that Francis Whyte was introduced to Stephen Slaughter by Samuel Madden DD (1686-1765), a patron of the artist and Whyte's near neighbour at Hilton Park, Clones, a few miles from Redhills.



Redhills House2. Standing inside the demesne walls, near the village, the rubble remains of a near square fortified house of indeterminate date but generally accepted as the 17th century house of the Whytes, which has been ruined since it burned c. 1820. The walls are much repaired and rebuilt, revealing no architectural characteristics other than evidence for external roughcast, so applied as to suggest blocked quoins and window surrounds. The succeeding house, a substantial Regency block, enlarged by James E. Rogers for the Rev. Arthur Whyte-Venables in 1867, was burnt in 1922 and modestly rebuilt in 1934 and c. 1990. All that now remains of the c19 house is a heraldic roundel,elaborately carved with the Venables crest of a wyvern devouring a child, set in a blank wall beside the present house. The antiquity of the adjoining demesne is still attested by a broad yew avenue and traces of rectangular fishponds in a broad flat expanse north-east of the fortified house ruins.

To the south, the demesne is marked by a fine Georgian entrance, with square stone piers topped by big sculpted pinecones. Inside was a small Italianate gate lodge, richly stuccoed with a canted


1Recorded in the Journal for the preservation of the memorials of the dead in Ireland, 1890, Vol. 1, no.3 pp.153-4. A copy of this entry is pasted to the stretcher of the painting.

2The note and picture of Redhills were kindly supplied by the architectural historian Kevin Mulligan, author of the forthcoming volume of the Pevsner architectural guide to the buildings of Ireland for South Ulster




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