Sir Thomas Lawrence painted the full size portrait of the Archbishop of York, Edward Venables-Vernon-Harcourt as we see him here in 1823; the original still hangs at Sudbury Hall, Harcourt’s family home. This sensitively painted reduced version was finished around the same time and is identical to another which is with the Graves Art Gallery, Sheffield.
The artist George Raphael Ward (1797-1879) was a pupil of Lawrence and was employed by him to make copies of his works and engrave a number of his portraits. Entering the Royal Academy schools in 1822, he was awarded a Silver Medal by the Society of Artists the following year, around the time of commencing work for Lawrence, and went on to exhibit regularly at the R.A. principally known for his work as a miniaturist. The present portrait betrays the hand of a skilled miniature painter principally in the fine handling of the tones, the precision, and the blended, almost imperceptible, brushstrokes in the face, details that are quite indicative of Ward’s work and form the basis of attributing this painting to him. Almost certainly copied in Lawrence’s studio and originally within one of his frame types, the present portrait, together with the version in Sheffield, were probably intended for other members of Harcourt’s family or circle. Lawrence’s portrait was engraved in mezzotint by George Henry Phillips and published in November 1836.
The third son of George Venables-Vernon, 1st Baron Vernon (1710-1780), Harcourt was born at Sudbury Hall, Derbyshire in October 1757. Educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford he was elected fellow of All Souls College in 1777 and graduated D.C.L. in 1787. He became a canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and a prebendary of Gloucester in 1785, becoming Bishop of Carlisle, in 1791. After the death of Archbishop William Markiam Harcourt was confirmed Archbishop of York in 1808. In the same year he was gazetted a privy councillor, and made Lord High Almoner to George III, an office which he also held under Queen Victoria.
He was known an eloquent orator, and occasionally spoke in the House of Lords on ecclesiastical matters, but usually abstained from political contentions. He lived under five successive monarchs, and was respected for his benevolence and simplicity of character. In January 1831 he took the surname of Harcourt only on inheriting the large estates of the Harcourt family, which came to him on the death of his cousin, Field-marshal William, third and last Earl Harcourt. York Minster was twice destroyed by fire during his primacy, 1829 and 1841, and he contributed largely to both restorations. Enjoying good health he visited York and inspected the repairs of the chapterhouse as late as 1st November 1847, only to die suddenly four days later at Bishopthorpe Palace, near York, He was buried at Stanton Harcourt, Oxfordshire, on 13th November. He married in 1784 Anne Leveson-Gower, third daughter of Granville Leveson-Gower, 1st Marquess of Stafford, with whom he had sixteen children!