18th Century
Portrait of a Naval Officer

Oil on canvas
Image size: 29 1/2 x 24 inches (75 x 61 cm)
Period gilt frame

This is a notable half length portrait of a navel officer, holding a telescope. He stands wearing a blue grey coat over a lighter waist coast and a powdered wig with buckles (rolled curls) that is worn en queue. A seascape can be seen beyond him with a bright clear sky in the background.

Prior to the 1740s, Royal Navy officers and sailors had no established uniforms, although many of the officer class typically wore gentleman’s clothing with wigs to denote their social status. The early Royal Navy also had only three clearly established shipboard ranks: Captain, Lieutenant and Master. This simplicity of rank had its origins as far back as the Middle Ages.

Uniform regulations for naval officers were first issued by Lord Anson in 1748, and was in response to officers wishing for an established uniform pertaining to their service. Officer uniforms were at first divided into a ‘best uniform’, consisting of an embroidered blue coat with white facings worn unbuttoned with white breeches and stockings, as well as a ‘working rig’ which was a simpler, less embroidered uniform for day-to-day use.