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Sir George Houstoun

Engleheart, George __Attributed to
Place Made:
London Great Britain
Date Made:
watercolor on ivory –glass –gold
HOA: 1 1/2; WOA: 1 1/4
Accession Number:
SITTER: Sir George Houstoun (1744-1795) was a Savannah merchant who became the seventh baronet, Lord Houstoun, upon the death of his elder brother, Patrick (1742-1785). In 1773, George received five hundred acres of land in St. David’s Parish in Georgia from his mother, Lady Priscilla Houstoun, and he acquired more land as he grew older. By January of 1774, he was sufficiently established to place an advertisement in the Georgia Gazette for an overseer “who understands the management of an Indigo plantation; he must be well recommended for his honesty, sobriety and knowledge of his business.” On April 7, 1774, he received a commission as second lieutenant in Captain Thomas Netherclift’s company of foot militia. At the end of that year, on December 14, 1774, he married Ann Moodie (1749-1821). George Houstoun and Company was one of the most significant trans-Atlantic mercantile firms in Savannah.

Initially, Houstoun supported the Revolutionary cause, but unlike his younger brothers, he later reneged on that support. On August 3, 1782, the Georgia legislature listed him among the loyalists amerced eight per cent on all of their property. None-the-less, his business continued to flourish. His brothers, John and William, served as mayors of Savannah, governors of Georgia, and representatives to the Continental Congress. In 1788, George was elected vice-president of the Union Society, a charitable organization. And in 1789, he was made a Justice of the Peace for Chatham County. He was also elected Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Georgia, the highest post in the Masonic Lodge.

The 1848 will of his daughter, Jean (Houstoun) Woodruff, mentioned two miniature portraits of her parents, Sir George and Lady Ann Moodie Houstoun. The gold bracelet to which it is mounted is in a mid-to-late Victorian style of the 1870s, and an identical gold bracelet survives with the circa 1775 miniature of Lady Ann Houstoun attributed to the colonial female artist Hetty Benbridge (MESDA Acc. # 3353.2).

ATTRIBUTION AND ARTIST: This work was formerly attributed to Henry Benbridge; however, it strongly resembles the work of British miniaturist George Engleheart (1750-1829). Engleheart is considered one of the best miniaturists of the late 18th century. He was admitted to the Royal Academy in 1769 and exhibited regularly. An account book listing his sitters between 1775 and 1813 survives. During that period he records painting nearly 5,000 portrait.

Unfortunately Houstoun’s name does not appear in the published transcription of Engleheart’s sitters. There is also no direct evidence that Houstoun traveled to England. However, he may have traveled to London after his brother’s death to settle the estate and to claim his title. Houstoun did commission a marble tablet to his brother’s memory at the church in Bath where his brother is buried. It notes, “This Monument was erected by Sir George Houston [sic] of Houston, Baronet.” Thus, it is possible that Houstoun was in England around 1785-6, when his portrait could have been painted by George Engleheart.

REFERENCES: George C. Williamson and Henry L. D. Engleheart, “George Engleheart 1750-1829: Miniature Painter to George III” (London: George Bell & Sons, 1902)

RELATED OBJECTS: MESDA also owns a circa 1785 miniature Lady Ann (Moodie) Houstoun attributed to the artist Esther Hetty (Sage) Benbridge (acc. 3353.2). The Museum also owns a pair mourning miniatures by artist Samuel Folwell (1765-1813) that were painted for Ann between 1792-1795.

DESCRIPTION: Miniature portrait of Sir George Houstoun; watercolor on ivory; man is dressed in a white ruffled shirt and blue coat with gray hair pulled back. Miniature is set in a gold bracelet.

Credit Line:
Gift of Dr. Lucia Karnes and Mrs. Jean Rooney