Admiral of the Fleet

John Wright (c.1770-1820)


This portrait is traditionally held to depict Sir George Martin, later Admiral of the Fleet, in his naval uniform with gold epaulettes and with his Naval Gold Medal on a blue and white striped ribbon.

Born in 1764, George Martin’s family had strong naval connections. His father William was a naval Captain whilst his mother, Arabella Rowley, was the daughter of an Admiral. George joined the Royal Navy in 1776 serving initially on ships commanded by his uncle. Showing promise, he soon took his first commander position on HMS Tobago. A long and illustrious career followed with Martin seeing action during the American War of Independence and the Napoleonic Wars, rising through the ranks to be appointed a Rear-Admiral in 1805, Vice-Admiral in 1810, Commander-in-Chief in 1824 and Admiral of the Fleet in 1846. He was also appointed a Knight Commander and then Knight Grand of the Order of the Bath.

The Naval Gold Medal, as shown in this portrait, was awarded to Sir George for his part in the 1797 Battle of Cape St Vincent against a Spanish fleet as Captain of HMS Irresistible. Only 117 of these medals were ever awarded.

The portrait is signed on the reverse – Jn Wright / Leicester / Square / No. 50. It is set in what appears to be the original gold-plated frame that is glazed front and back. The portrait is in fine condition. The frame is missing some pins causing the back panel to lift ever so slightly.

James Inigo Wright worked from 50 Leicester Square between 1803 and 1804/5 thereby dating the portrait to this period. This coincides neatly with Sir George’s first marriage in 1804 to Harriet Bentinck, the daughter of a naval Captain and sister to an Admiral. Harriet died two years later, most likely in childbirth. Sir George married again in 1815 to Ann Locke. The couple had no children.

Relatively little is known about the life of the artist John Inigo Wright who exhibited at the Royal Academy between 1795 and 1819. The New Times (8 March 1820) reported an inquest into his sudden death held at his lodgings, 54 Old Bond Street –

“Saturday morning, about four o’clock, a noise was heard in the room where he slept; he was found in bed, but complained of having been restless all night. He did not get up; and at twelve o’clock he was found in his chamber, hanging by a cord from the tester of the bed. A surgeon was called in who attempted to bleed him, but without effect. Verdict: Lunacy”

He was just 50 years of age. A sad loss of talent.

Item Ref. 7214

Size: framed, 75 x 60mm

Provenance: Sotheby's, October 1980