- Museum number
View of Havana; roofs and houses of town seen from above, with water and shore beyond. c.1762
Pen and grey ink and watercolour
- Production date
- 1762 (circa)
Height: 315 millimetres
Width: 530 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- Probably datable c.1762, when Harcourt was Aide-de-Camp to Lord Albemarle at the taking of Havana in 1762.
K Sloan, Noble Art 2000
Like his father, Simon, first Earl Harcourt (1714-77), as well as his brother, sister and wife, William Harcourt was very close to court circles and an active amateur artist. His father was wealthy, elegant and impeccably mannered, and on his return from his grand tour in 1734 helped to found the Society of Dilettanti and was made Lord of the Bedchamber to George II. He attended the King at the Battle of Dettingen against the French in 1743, becoming a colonel in 1745 and general in 1772. When Frederick Prince of Wales died, the Earl was appointed governor to his sons, Princes George and Edward. In 1761 he was chosen as the new king's proxy for his marriage to Charlotte of Mecklenburg and on his return he was given further appointments in the Queen's household, followed by posts as Ambassador to Paris and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.
The relevance of the first Earl's history at court, and his taste in landscape and artists will become more apparent in the discussion of the work of his elder son George and his daughter Elizabeth (cats. 96, 109). Comparatively little is known of their younger brother William's early education and his connection with the artists who taught them cannot be documented as clearly, but it seems likely, particularly on the evidence of the present watercolour, that he shared their lessons in landscape with Alexander Cozens and Paul Sandby and may also have studied perspective with Joshua Kirby (see cat. 67) or copied drawing examples provided by Bernard Lens several decades earlier for other royal pupils (see cat. 73).
Unlike his elder brother who was educated to become the 2nd Earl and sent on a grand tour at the age of nineteen, in 1759 William Harcourt was given command of a troop in his father's horse regiment, two years later accompanying his father's suite to Mecklenberg. This was followed by a post in the royal household and various military appointments, including aide-de-campe to Lord Albermarle at the taking of Havana in 1762. This very accomplished view of the city, presumably from a tower overlooking the main square, includes the main buildings, fortifications, harbour and details of the wooded shore opposite which would do justice to the portfolio of any professional military topographical draughtsman. At some time prior to 1882 when it was purchased by the Museum, this watercolour was badly damaged by an auctioneer or dealer writing the word 'Watercolour' and a price or lot number on a wrapper. Nevertheless, it indicates an appreciation of atmosphere, light and shade and composition that hint at an ability in landscape watercolour which sadly cannot be documented by any other surviving examples, although his brother Viscount Nuneham etched several of William's landscapes drawn abroad, including a view of The Morro Castle taken from the town of 1762. William Harcourt also learnt to etch, as Richard Bull's album of etchings by amateurs includes his 1764 caricature of a washerwoman very similar to the series produced by Sandby around this time (Bull I, no. 47).
William Harcourt's successful military career included the capture of General Lee on the Delaware in 1776 and twenty years later he was made general and appointed the first governor of the Royal Military College at Great Marlow. On the advice of his friend John Fisher (cat. 0), he approached John Constable to fill the post of drawing master, but the artist declined it perceiving that it would be 'a death blow to all my prospects of perfection in the Art I love.' The position went instead to William Alexander, later Keeper of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum. Harcourt succeeded his brother as third Earl in 1809, having lived at St Leonard's Hill in Windsor from 1782 where he was Deputy Ranger Windsor Great Park. He and his wife Mary maintained a very close relationship with the royal family throughout their lives.
Literature: Edward W. Harcourt, ed., The Harcourt Papers, vol. XI, Oxford, 145ff; DNB; Ian Fleming-Williams, pp. 217-8
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2000 May-Sep, BM P&D, 'A Noble Art', no.77
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number