Sir George Hayter (1792-1871)
Pepys, whose great-grandfather was none other than the loquacious diarist, Samuel Pepys, was made solicitor-general and later Lord Chancellor of England in 1834, the year Hayter painted this oil sketch...
The present work is one of a number of ad vivum oil sketches that were produced by George Hayter in preparation for his monumental painting, ‘The House of Commons, 1833’ (1833-43), a magnificent historical scene now in the National Portrait Gallery, London, which depicts the first meeting of the newly-elected parliament after the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832.
Although the name Hayter first and foremost evokes the triumphal imagery of Queen Victoria, he was also celebrated for his large, grand paintings of historically momentous events. The effort Hayter required to complete The House of Commons, 1833 is particularly impressive given that he undertook the project without any prior financial backing. It was a task of considerable physical and financial strain and one that nearly reduced him to bankruptcy. Yet Hayter persevered following a studio visit from Queen Victoria and the Duchess of Kent whilst he worked on the commission, which inspired him ‘with unceasing zeal to overcome [his] difficulties’. The work was finally bought by the Tories in 1858 who donated it to the newly-founded National Portrait Gallery. Hayter spent a decade compiling a vast portfolio of preparatory head sketches of 375 of the total 658 members of the Reformed Commons, which he later used as observational records for the final masterpiece measuring nearly eleven by eighteen feet.
The meeting took place in the House of Commons on 5th February 1833, marking the successful implementation of a Whig-led campaign which aimed to improve the government of England and Wales through the introduction of a fairer electoral system. Although the bill increased the population of British voters by more than 310,000 (equivalent to one in every five males) as well as initiating major changes to wider social, industrial and work-related issues, it was ultimately considered a series of compromises that caused widespread discontent in Britain. Hayter’s scrupulous approach to producing oil sketches from life, of which this is one, resulted in a painting that bridges the void between public art and graphic journalism and his efforts ensured that the final work lacked none of the realism and excitement of the actual event. Discipline and perseverance were critical in order to record the gathering accurately, which the Prime Minister, Charles Grey (1764–1845), described as the most ‘supreme achievement’.
This study portrays Charles Christopher Pepys (1781–1851), 1st Earl of Cottenham, seated and facing to the right. Pepys was educated at Harrow School then Trinity College, Cambridge, and later entered parliament as a Whig M.P. for Higham Ferrers and Malton. By all accounts he was a short man, rather blunt and somewhat cold mannered, characteristics perhaps discernible in Hayter’s present sketch. Famously described by a fellow Whig as a ‘plain, undistinguished man’, Pepys was nonetheless valued for his dedication and logic making him a formidable background figure in the Commons. Given his great-grandfather was none other than the loquacious diarist, Samuel Pepys (1633–1703), his aversion to speaking in Parliament seems quite strange. Nevertheless he was made solicitor-general and later Lord Chancellor of England in 1834, the year Hayter painted this oil sketch. Of greater note than his performances as a speech-maker, however, is Pepys’s record as a judge. Pepys was praised by one contemporary as ‘one of the best judges I ever saw on the bench’ and the ponderous mind that could produce such famously equitable judgements can, perhaps, be seen reflected in Hayter’s study.
 Hayter, George, ‘A Descriptive Catalogue of the Great Historical Picture of the Interior of the British House of Commons in 1833, Painted by Sir G. Hayter’, (London: pl. VII. Cook & Co., 1843).
 Smith, E. A., Lord Grey: 1764-1845, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1990), p. 278.
 Greville, Charles Cavendish Fulke, ed. Reeve, H., The Greville Memoirs, Vol. 1 of 3, (Nabu Press, 2010), p. 328.