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Born in India at Fort St. George, Madras Henry was the third son of Josias Du Pre Porcher (d. 1820), East India agent, of Hillingdon House, and Winslade House, Devon and Charlotte, daughter of Admiral Sir William Burnaby, 1st bt., of Broughton Hall, Oxon. Educated at Winchester and Corpus, Cambridge, Henry joined the family firm in London following his elder brother Thomas’s death in 1812, becoming a partner on his father’s retirement in 1816. Edward Fletcher and James Alexander also joined them that year and they subsequently traded as Fletcher, Alexander and Company of Devonshire Square. His father, who ensured that Henry Porcher’s name was given to an East Indiaman, relinquished the representation in Parliament of Old Sarum in 1818 and died in 1820, worth about £150,000, of which Porcher inherited £10,000, then a colossal fortune. In May 1822 he married the Sarah, daughter of a director and former governor of the Bank of England John Pearse. Pearse’s negotiations with Lord Brownlow and Earl Howe concerning the purchase of the latter’s Clitheroe tithes paved the way for Porcher’s return as M.P. for the borough of Clithroe in August that year.
In 1825 he had become a director of the Bank of England through his father-in-law’s influence, a position he held until 1843, when he also retired as one of the capital’s deputy lieutenants. Fletcher, Alexander and Company traded until at least 1861, but it remains unclear how long Porcher, who in 1843 took a 21-year lease on Park House, Heckfield (part of the duke of Wellington’s estate on the Berkshire-Hampshire border) remained a partner. He died near Heckfield in November 1857, following a fall from his horse. By his will, dated 17 May 1835 and proved 28 Jan. 1858, he left all his property to his wife.
George Richmond studied at the Royal Academy Schools where he met and formed a lifelong friendship with Samuel Palmer. As a youth he became a disciple of William Blake who had a profound effect on his art, and with Palmer and Edward Calvert he formed ‘The Ancients’, painting visionary works in the manner of Blake. After his marriage in 1831, Richmond concentrated on portraiture, a field in which he excelled, becoming one of the most prolific portraitists of the Victorian period. This work demonstrates well his mastery of the technique. As the art historian Brian Stewart observed “…it is his delightfully intimate watercolour portraits, with their richness of colour and sureness of execution, that leave perhaps the greatest impression.”
The Porcher family were friends of the artist and he returned to them many times over the years to depict family members. Given the composition, style and date of this portrait it was probably completed within a matter of days apart from the portrait of John Pearse, the sitter’s father-in-law, taken in the summer of 1831. As a personal friend of the sitter Richmond might have made this portrait a gift, hence it not appearing in the accounts book.