Lt-Col Robert Foy Royal Marines (1767 – 1838) ‘fought at the Battle of Copenhagen’; a portrait coming up in Kent next month.

(Note: commenting on this post on Twitter, Dr Bendor Grosvenor very kindly suggests that the original life portrait of Robert Foy may be by Robert Home (1752 – 1834), a portrait painter who worked in India from 1791 until his death.  This  attribution is stylistically convincing and further research might establish whether Colonel Foy served in India in the Royal Marines in the 1790s.)

Here’s a curious thing from an upcoming sale, February 4th 2020 lot 321  at CT Auctioneers and Valuers at Tunbridge Wells.

Robert Foy

It’s described as A Portrait of a Georgian Officer… later frame with a copy of a Georgian officer’s gorget centre. It would be a rareish thing if it were real.

Robert Foy gorget

These silver gorgets with the Royal Arms were worn just below the neck by Georgian officers, a last gasp of the medieval steel neckguard, marked G in this handy illustration.


image PearsonScott Foresman Archive donated to wikimedia

The sitter is a late Georgian officer, as the catalogue entry says, in the uniform and hairstyle of the 1790s, but you can tell from the way it’s painted that it’s not a late Georgian portrait.  The frame measures 69 x 54 cm, so it’s on a smaller scale that the usual life-size portrait, where the canvas itself usually measures 76.2 x 63.5 cm.

The catalogue also mentions an old label on the back ‘but this is no longer legible.’  That’s not quite true. You can make out a bit of what it says, and that’s enough to identify the sitter.

Robert Foy label

[-] G[—–] of/ [-] [Maj[.] Ren[–] uthe[.]/Col] Robert Foy of the Royal/…s; fought with ….. at/ the Battle of Copenhagen…./ [?…. painted in 179[-], [-]/ originals, which [—]/ [-] Frank Burridge Foye of/ [?fare], died [—]

(The swastikas look disturbing now, but in the years around 1900 it was a popular motif, borrowed from the Hindu sun wheel.  Rudyard Kipling used to decorate the endpapers of his books with them.)

And looking him up, here is Robert Foy, in what may be the original portrait painted from life in the 1790s.

Robert Foy original

Thanks to a relative who has curated the entry, we know that Robert (January 3rd 1767 – March 1838) of Taunton, Somerset, was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Marines.   He married Ann Bryant Burridge (d.1856), and their son Henry Gully Foy (c.1815 – 1877) married Celia Arnold (c.1817 – 1884) and had 15 children, one of whom was Frank Burridge Foy (c.1853 – c.1934), born at Taunton and died like his mother at Axbridge.

The label on this portrait shows how early copies can be such important documents.  The label is the crucial detail that unlocks the sitter’s identity and gives a hint of early provenance.  If there was ever any doubt who the sitter is in the version on [by Robert Home; Bendor Grosvenor], the label on this copy helps to prove it.  The sitter was identified as Robert Foy in the lifetime of his grandson.

So, if the portrait at auction was painted in Frank Burridge Foy’s lifetime, a date around the late Nineteenth Century would fit, stylistically and with the details on the label.  I wonder who had the copy made.  It was clearly an important thing, especially if they also commissioned a copy of Colonel Foy’s gorget to hang with it.  The first two lines of the inscription written in the cartouche are illegible, from the images at least, but the mention of another officer suggests it might have been presented to a Mess.

There were two Battles of Copenhagen, April 2nd 1801, and August 16th – September 5th 1807.  Exactly which of the two Robert Foy fought at depends on the name of the commander in the label, and I can’t read it at the moment.  The principal commanders in 1801 were Sir Hyde Parker, Lord Nelson, Thomas Graves, and in 1807 Lord Gambier and Lord Cathcart, but other commanders in the field might be a better fit for the letters.

(Other images (c) CT Auctioneers and Valuers)

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