William Bateman was a British Whig politician who sat in the House of Commons between 1721 and 1734. He was made Knight Companion of the Order of the Bath in 1732 and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1733. This painting dates between 1732, when Viscount Bateman received his Order of the Bath, and 1737, when the artist Gawen Hamilton died.
The Order of the Bath is the fourth-most senior of the British Orders of Chivalry, after The Most Noble Order of the Garter, The Most Ancient. Here we can see Viscount Bateman sat wearing the insignia, accompanied by the figures of his wife Anne Spencer and his eldest son John.
In 1738 Anne discovered with horror that William had been conducting homosexual liaisons with some of the stable boys at one of his properties. She spent the rest of her life living with her brother after formally separating from her husband. William, who risked prosecution and social ostracism in England, subsequently lived abroad a good deal, although he does seem to have travelled back and forth between England and the Continent a fair bit. He died in Paris in 1744 and was succeeded in the viscountcy by his son.
Little biographical information is known about Hamilton. He was born in the West of Scotland but worked mainly in London and indeed only in the recent years has the fineness of his work been fully appreciated. Hamilton died and was buried at St Paul’s, Covent Garden on 28 October 1737.
He was one of the first wave of British born painters of ‘conversation pieces’ along with contemporaries such as William Hogarth and Charles Philips. These are works that depict groups of friends, families and acquaintances often engaging in a variety of genteel activities such as playing cards or taking tea.
Much of what is known of Hamilton is derived from the notebooks of George Vertue, who knew him well and was a fellow member, both of the convivial group that met at the Rose and Crown Club. Vertue described Hamilton as the superior of Hogarth ‘in Colouring and easy graceful likeness’ – a possibly prejudiced view given their association. He also described Hamilton as one of ‘the most elevated Men in Art here now, [who] are the lowest of stature’.