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Repairing Sir Peter Warren

Sir Peter Warren by Thomas HudsonHISTORY MATTERS

The life-sized portraits of two war heroes dominate the wall of the Portsmouth Atheneum. But the first major American war has been forgotten, as has the British naval hero who ensured the victory. Today the painting of Sir Peter Warren is fading and, with his restoration, comes the restoration of  great story and an ancient friendship. (Full story below) 

He was a big man in his day. In fact, Sir Peter Warren is still as big as life, although he is fading. His colorful full-sized portrait has been part of the Portsmouth Athenaeum since 1827. That makes his enormous head-to-toe picture one of the earliest and certainly the biggest treasure in the ancient library. But this week, after hanging around for nearly 200 years, Sir Peter has left the building. Where did he go? And who the heck was he? It's a story with many twists and turns.

Who am I?

The portrait of Peter Warren stands almost eight feet tall by five feet wide. It was painted in 1746 by an itinerant Scottish artist named John Smibert. More on Smibert later. In the portrait Warren is wearing a long bright blue uniform with gold braid and an equally long red waistcoat. He is the embodiment of the British aristocracy from his curled and powdered wig to his skintight breeches and buckled shoes.

The secret to his fame is coded into the picture. In his right hand Warren holds a long wooden telescope. Therefore, he is a seagoing man of vision and status. The telescope looks to be from the mid-1700s. His uniform identifies him as a captain in the British Navy. His left hand gestures toward a window where a few tall ships are visible. For historians, the background scene depicts the British ships Superbe and Mermaid capturing the French merchant ship Vigilante in 1745. 

 Sir Peter Warren by John Smibert at Portsmouth Athenaeum

CONTINUE Peter Warren article 

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