Born on 25 May 1699, Pattee Byng was one of 15 children of Admiral George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington. He was Treasurer of the Navy from 1724-1734 and succeeded his father as 2nd Viscount Torrington in January 1733. Appointed a Privy Councillor in May 1732 he became Vice-Treasurer of Ireland in 1734 becoming Treasurer in August 1742, a post he held until 1744. He was M.P. for both Plymouth and Bedfordshire and was appointed Captain of the King’s Body Guard in 1746. Residing at the family seat Southill Park in Bedfordshire, he married Charlotte Montagu, daughter of the 1st Duke of Manchester in 1724. The union failed to bring any children and on his death in January 1747 all family titles devolved upon his brother George, an army General.
Sir Godfrey Kneller was the greatest master of the English baroque portrait. As Court painter to four sovereigns, he dominated English art for more than thirty years. Born in Lübeck, Germany as Gottfried Kniller, he trained in Amsterdam, probably under Rembrandt’s pupil Ferdinand Bol. He visited Rome and Venice before coming to England in about 1676, where he rapidly established himself as a leading portrait painter to court society, successfully competing with, and then succeeding, Peter Lely. His talent was greatly admired and officially recognized when appointed jointly with John Riley Principal Painter to William III and Queen Mary II in 1689. His knighthood three years later was followed in 1715 by a baronetcy from George I, the first to be conferred on a painter. As a member of the Kit-Kat Club pledged to support the Protestant succession to the throne, Kneller painted what is probably his finest work – a striking set of 40 portraits of club members, some of which are displayed at the National Portrait Gallery, London. In 1711 he founded the Academy of Painting in London for young artists and became its first governor.
Probably painted around 1720 this portrait of 2nd Viscount Torrington, discovered only recently, is a familiar “feigned oval” format. The face is particularly strong in character and the brushwork is a good example of Kneller working finely and with great sensitivity. Kneller painted a double portrait of both father and son in 1718