The present portrait is a head and shoulders version of Reynolds’s three-quarter length portrait of 1782 (Earl of Leicester Collection, Holkham Hall). The portrait is the most widely reproduced of Fox’s icons, and proved the most popular with his army of devotees, political allies and followers. The original painting at Holkham depicts Fox in a white waistcoat, but derivations from it such as the present example show a buff waistcoat, reflecting the blue and buff colours of George Washington’s army, which from the inception of the American War of Independence became the uniform of the Fox club and during the war with the colonies, the badge of the entire Whig Party.
This particular portrait of Fox was once in the collection of Tony Banks M.P. A deep admirer of Fox and avid collector of memorabilia associated with the man, Banks traded this piece with another collector to facilitate the purchase of a further Fox related item for his collection.
The son of a hugely indulgent father, Fox was introduced at a tender age to an extravagant and dissipated way of life that was to remain with him always. Despite fast living, he was also seen, very early, as of exceptional ability. He was elected to Parliament at the age of nineteen, and was soon appointed to ministerial office; but a series of quixotic resignations alienated the King, and cast doubts on his judgement. Drifting away from an early association with the government of Lord North, he became the darling of the radicals and strongly supported the cause of American independence and later the French Revolution. On the eventual demise of North’s government in 1782, he became Foreign Secretary and the leading Commons member of the government nominally led by the Marquess of Rockingham. Rockingham’s death caused its collapse, and Fox opposed the peace plans of its successor under the Earl of Shelburne; when that, in turn, fell at the end of 1782, Fox and his old sparring partner, North, joined in an administration which the King conspired to destroy, creating an opportunity for his young protégé, William Pitt the younger, to begin his dominance of politics for the next twenty years. Fox did return to office briefly in 1806, as Foreign Secretary in the ‘ministry of all the talents’ led by Lord Grenville, but died only a few months later. Fox combined dissolute habits with remarkable warmth of character with great courage and skill in debate. Although he could be opportunistic as well as idealistic, he is remembered as a great champion of liberty.