Ormolu frame with foliate border and inner gilded metal mount
This striking portrait miniature by William Wood is an exciting new addition to his known oeuvre and is one of the best examples of his late work to come onto the market in recent years.
The sitter, who is identified on the reverse as ‘J.L.Stawell Esq’, is Captain James Ludlow Stawell, a descendent of the Stawell family who originated from Ireland and whose lineage can be traced back to the times of William the Conqueror. James was the fourth son of Sampson Stawell of Kilbrittain (1741-1819), a notable military officer and Captain of the Kilbrittain troop of Cavalry and Hester, daughter of James Bernard of Castle Bernard in Co. Cork.
The first reference to Stawell’s military career can be found in a statement from the War Office published in the Caledonian Mercury on 21st January 1800 where Stawell is referred to as Lieutenant of the 36th (Herefordshire) Regiment of Foot. Later that year on 18th June Stawell purchased the rank of Captain – a procedure which was quite standard for ambitious young gentleman during that period. Stawell appears to have remained with the 36th Foot until 20th July 1805 when he is listed as a Captain of the 2nd Regiment of Life Guards – the uniform of which he is seen wearing in the present work. By the 18th August 1806 Stawell is listed as a Captain of the 53rd (Shropshire) Regiment of Foot where he remained until 1811 when he is then listed as ‘resigned and retired’. Whilst serving as Captain of the 53rd Foot Stawell saw action during the Peninsula War (1807-14) and was wounded at the Battle of Talavera de la Reina on 27th-28th July 1809.
Following his retirement from the army Stawell became involved in politics and was a keen advocate of the Irish Reform Act which was finally passed in 1832. Described as a ‘sincere Protestant’, he successfully won support and respect across the social classes and, despite his advantageous connections and wealth, became heavily involved in helping the poorer members of society.
Stawell died in 1832 of fever after a brief period of illness, and was immortalized in a poem published by an unknown Cork artist in 1833 titled The Late James Ludlow Stawell:
Unsung, into the tomb where patriot-worth-
Hereditary and inherited-
Hath heralded thy passage, and no tongue
Proclaim the setting of another star
In Erin’s dimm’d horizon? – Stawell! No:
Thy name is Freedom’s watchword, and thy race
Have been a people’s idols. Not for wealth-
Not for the title that a King may give,
Nor wide extent of sway, nor swelling pomp,
Nor length of ancestry. If these are boasts,
Thou could’st have boatsed. All that vulgar minds
Build high pretentions on, were thine: – wealth, rank,
Station, descent, connexion, intercourse –
All that the thoughtless call nobility.
Thou had’st another standard for the title,
Than these poor accidents of name or birth.
Who made thy heart gave it a higher impress,
And stamp’d nobility upon thy nature.
Thy very form gave proof of it. Indeed,
It was a casket worthy to enshrine
The spirit of thy sire’s descent.
We have lost much in thee, and at a time
When though could’st least be spared. Thy generous mind
Ardent, but tempered by benevolence,
And somewhat softened down by time – had been
A treasure in the period that may come.
Even those who most opposed respected thee:-
They call’d thy notions wild, chimerical,
But never hinted at dishonesty,
Or deemed a selfish motive urged thee on
To advocate thy fellows. Calumny
Seeks a high mark, they say, to fling her darts at;
But thou stood’st even too high for calumny –
Her weapons never reached thee. – Pardon, shade
Of him in life beloved, in death regretted,
This feeble effort to record thy worth:
Living, I would not flatter thee; and, dead,
No words of mine can picture thy deservings.
We are grateful to Christopher Bryant for his assistance when cataloguing this work.