John, Duke of Marlborough with his Chiefs-of-Staff in the foreground with a Battle Scene beyond, probably during the War of the Spanish Succession

John, Duke of Marlborough with his Chiefs-of-Staff in the foreground with a Battle Scene beyond, probably during the War of the Spanish Succession





Anglo-Flemish School

John, Duke of Marlborough with his Chiefs-of-Staff in the foreground with a Battle Scene beyond, probably during the War of the Spanish Succession

Oil on canvas, signed

291/2 x 43 ins

75 x 107 cms

Overall framed size 96 x 129.5 cms

                               37 ¾ x 51 inches

 Provenance: Carstairs Collection

                     Private Collection, USA

John, Duke of Marlborough with his Chiefs-of-Staff in the foreground with a Battle Scene beyond, probably during the War of the Spanish Succession

Pieter Tillemans was born in Antwerp in 1684 but came to England in 1708, becoming a significant artist in his adopted country, particularly in horse painting where he was among the forefront of equestrian painters who revolutionised the depiction of that subject.

He was the son of a diamond cutter and the brother-in-law of the renowned flower and bird painter, Pieter Casteels. The two young artists were encouraged to come to London by a picture dealer called Turner and they worked for him as copyists. Apparently, Tillemans was particularly adept at recreating the work of David Teniers as well as the French battle scene painter, Jacques Courtois. His proficiency rapidly gained him a prominent reputation in art circles and his depiction of horses was particularly noted. So quickly had he attained a high standing that in 1711, he was part of the group of leading artists who met in Great Queen Street, London, to set up the country's first Academy of Art.

The principal source of his independent work early in his career was for drawings commissioned by John Bridges in 1719 to depict topographical scenes of Oxford, but mainly views in Northamptonshire, to be used as illustrations for his History of Northamptonshire. Bridges hired him to produce five hundred Indian ink drawings and paid him a guinea a day plus board and lodging. This work was not published until after the death of both the artist and the writer but for Tillemans, it was an introduction to the increasingly popular depictions of grand country houses and their environs. He joined the group of other Netherlandish painters such as Thomas Wyck, Jan Siberechts, Leonard Knyff and Pieter Andreas Rysbrack who had found favour in England and were highly adept at these works, often on a very large scale with some shown from an elevated perspective. Tillemans' paintings of this type, usually with figures, often actual portraits, in the foreground, evoked the feeling and sensibility of the English landscape. Examples of this type include: "A View of the Garden and main Parterre of Winchendon House, Buckinghamshire", "Chirk Castle from the South", "Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire" and "A View of Uppark".

Tillemans had become a favourite with the nobility and country squires of England as highly proficient at depicting their seats but it was his all-round ability as an artist, able to paint landscapes, portraits, conversation or 'fancy' subjects, stage scenery (with Joseph Goupy for the opera) and horses that saw him develop into one of the founders of the sporting conversation piece together with James Seymour and John Wootton. These three influential artists were all members of the Virtuosi Club of St Luke and Tillemans became a steward of this body in 1725. He and Wootton were friends and they occasionally worked together but although the former had closely studied racing prints after Francis Barlow, Tillemans moved further from the darker tones of that painter and consequently his paintings tend to be rather airier, almost rococo, than Wootton's.

Royalty and the nobility met at Newmarket for the season and eminent artists were there to record the event. Tillemans was one of these and in 1722 he produced a large panoramic painting "George I and his Court on Newmarket Heath". In about 1723, he painted another large work of Newmarket Heath (now in the Government Art Collection) and other examples include: "Starting Point of the Beacon Course at Newmarket" and "End of the Beacon Course".

The combination of country houses, horses and sporting pursuits and portraiture in painting had an eager market and it is for this that Tillemans is most renowned today with works such as "Going-a-hunting with Lord Byron's Pack of Hounds", "Two Racehorses with Grooms and Hounds in the Park at Newstead Abbey, Nottinghamshire" and "Three Hounds with a Sportsman, a Hunt to the left". Commissioned for some of the grandest houses in the realm such as Chatsworth, Thoresby or Newstead, they fulfilled the expectations and cheerfulness present at the time and done in a "…beautifully clear and airy manner" (M H Grant). His patrons included the Dukes of Rutland, Somerset, Devonshire and Bolton and the Earls Spencer, Portmore and Derby.

However Tillemans seemed not content with just this genre of painting and turned his attention to depicting some of the grandest views in his adopted country. Paintings such as "London from Greenwich Park", "The Royal Hospital, Chelsea", "The Thames at Twickenham", and the magnificent 43 x 91 inches "View of the Thames from Richmond Hill" which Grant considers "…one of the grandest English prospects ever painted…"

In addition to this work, he utilised his prowess at both portraiture and equestrian painting to produce some history and battle scenes. "Charles 1's declaration to his Gentry and Army in September 1642" was of course an imaginative work but the "House of Commons in Session" and "Queen Anne in the House of Lords" together with other ceremonial works, were records of the time. His battle scenes such as "Battle of Glenshiel" and the "Battle of Belgrade" were probably commissioned commemorative works done retrospectively but his fine understanding of horses and how to paint them, gave these works movement and vitality.

Tillemans also had an influence on some well-known portrait and conversation piece artists as he was the teacher of Arthur Devis, Pieter Angellis and Joseph Francis Nollekens. He was also drawing master to the fourth Lord Byron and his children. His own portrait was painted by Hans Hysing.

He had always been afflicted by asthma and he decided to retire to the country to benefit from the better air. This prompted the sale of his collection in April 1733 which proved him to be an avid and discerning collector for there were works by Rembrandt, Raphael and Poussin among others. However the move did not augment the longevity of his life for he died on 5th December 1734 at Norton in Suffolk. The house belonged to one of his patrons, Dr. Cox Macro who was Chaplain to George II and Tillemans was working on a commission for him. Apparently, he was working on a horse in a painting on the morning of his death. He was buried at Stow Langtoft nearby.

Pieter Tillemans left a substantial artistic legacy: he was an eminent recorder of English country houses and urban views preceding the Italians Canaletto, Joli and Zuccarelli and he was at the forefront of English sporting painting, laying the foundations for such as Ben Marshall and Stubbs. Examples of his work can be seen in the museums and collections of: Victoria and Albert Museum, Tate Gallery; London, Fitzwilliam, Cambridge, Ashmolean, Oxford, Grosvenor Museum; H M Government Art Collection; Palace of Westminster; The Royal Hospital, Chelsea; Bank of England, Richmond-upon-Thames Borough Art Collection; Fairhaven Collection; Norwich Castle Museum, Hutchinson House; Newstead Abbey; Harris Museum and Art Gallery; Belton House Art Trust; Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; Buckinghamshire County Museum; National Trust (Uppark, Chirk Castle); National Gallery of Scotland; Brussels; Roumianzev, Moscow, Paul Mellon Collection, Yale University.

Note: We are grateful to Pip Dodd of the National Army Museum for his help in cataloguing this painting.


The Dictionary of British 18th Century Painters, Ellis Waterhouse

The Dictionary of British Equestrian Artists, Sally Mitchell

Dictionary of British Landscape Painters - M H Grant

Conversation Pieces- Sacheverell Sitwell

Painting in Britain 1530-1790 - Ellis Waterhouse

British Landscape Painters of the 18th Century - Luke Hermann

Manners and Morals: Hogarth and British Painting 1700-1760 - Tate



John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough 1650-1722, is regarded by many military historians as this country's finest general.

He was the son of the impoverished Devon Royalist, Sir Winston Churchill, and his first post was page to the Duke of York. He was a handsome and attractive young man and found favour with the Duchess of Cleveland who gave him £5,000 and secured him an ensigny in the Guards. Through notable service in engagements such as in Holland and Tangier, combined with aristocratic connections, he quickly rose to the rank of colonel. His clandestine marriage to the close friend of Princess, later Queen Anne, Sarah Jennings in 1677, presented him with the opportunity to make a secret mission to William of Orange in 1678 and for this was rewarded with the title of Baron Churchill of Eyemouth. This was then upgraded following his successful quelling of the Monmouth rebellion and when the Prince of Orange landed in England, John Churchill though it expedient to pledge allegiance to the new line, earning him the Earldom of Marlborough.

He again proved his worth to the English throne by brilliant service in the 1692 Irish campaign but suspicions of his Jacobite sympathies still circulated in the high echelons of power and he fell from favour. His wife however still had the Queen's ear and with the outbreak of the War of Spanish Succession, the position of supreme commander of British forces was conferred on Marlborough with an annual salary of £10,000.

The War of the Spanish Succession was a significant event in European history as it marked the decline of a superpower - Spain - and the aspirations of other powerful states, particularly France and the Hapsburg Austria.

Charles II of Spain died in 1700 without issue so heirs had to be found through the progeny of the late king's sisters, but most importantly, Louis XIV claimed the throne of Spain for his grandson Philip. This would have united the powers of France and Spain causing a major threat to the balance of power in Europe. The alternative was the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I of Austria but this would have had the same repercussions for it would have recreated the Spanish-Austro-Hungarian Empire of the 16th century.

Another candidate was the young Prince of Bavaria Joseph Ferdinand, the grandson of Leopold I and he was the lawful heir to the Spanish crown under the terms of Philip IV's will. As he was neither Bourbon nor Hapsburg, he was the preferred choice of England and the Netherlands and this prevailed between England and France, forming the basis of the Treaty of the Hague in 1698 which marked the end of the conflict of the War of the Grand Alliance in that year between France and England. However, with the death of the young Prince Joseph Ferdinand in 1699, the political machinations were renewed with claims and counter-claims as to the rights of various candidates but upon the death of Charles II, Louis XIV proclaimed his grandson to be King of Spain and in so doing, broke all the treaties signed with England.

When France then broke off trade agreements with England and the Low Countries, Louis sent troops into the Netherlands and claimed that, upon his death, Spain and France would be united. This created an opposition of enough countries with disparate interests to form a strong alliance and, after much brokering, war gradually ensued. Queen Anne, having succeeded to the throne after the death of William III in March 1702, declared war on France in May, prompted by Marlborough who was an advocate of conflict with France.

Marlborough sailed for the continent landing at Amsterdam in the Netherlands, the capital of the Dutch United Provinces, on 16th May 1702.and was eventually given the position of Commander-in-Chief of all English, Dutch and German forces in the Low Countries. Initially the Dutch were reluctant to commit their troops to battle but as the British Army increased in strength, Marlborough could operate with more authority and freedom. His superbly organised march to the Danube won admiration and the co-operation of Prince Eugene of Savoy which then led to the victory at Donauworth followed by that at Blenheim in 1704. This victory saw Marlborough bestowed with further honours: he was made a Prince of the Holy Roman Empire, and in England, a dukedom, the Garter and Master-generalship of the Ordnance were conferred on him and the gift of a palatial residence and estate at Woodstock which later became Blenheim Palace.

He secured further victories against the French at Ramillies in 1706 followed by the shattering defeat of Vendôme's forces at Oudenarde in 1708. With larger numbers to call upon, the French rallied somewhat after their defeat in 1709 at Malplaquet but in 1711, Marlborough really proved what a remarkable tactician he was by his manoeuvre with which he forced the "impregnable" lines of the elite French troops capturing Bouchain.

However, in England, Marlborough's political enemies, mostly Tories despite the Duke being one of their own, sought an end to conflict and the compromise of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 was signed which undid almost all the objectives and successes of the Alliance. Through this negotiated settlement, Philip remained King of Spain but he could not succeed to the French throne upon the death of Louis. The Dukes opponents also sought to publicly overthrow Marlborough and accused him of embezzlement of army funds. Although he was able to disprove this, his position was weakened especially as Queen Anne had grown tired of the Duke's wife Sarah's constant hectoring and transferred her favours elsewhere.

The Duke was dismissed from all public service on 31st December 1711, and remained abroad in retirement until the accession of George I when his honours were restored and his advice keenly sought concerning the Jacobite rebellion of 1715. He died on 16th June 1722 and Sarah continued to reside at Blenheim, spending the rest of her life completing its building and fighting litigation from Sir John Vanburgh, the architect.

Marlborough inspired great loyalty amongst his men as a result of his genuine concern over their welfare and testament to this was the number of humble former troops, veterans of his campaigns, who attended his memorial service at Westminster Abbey. He was known as a kind and even-tempered man and devoted husband and father but it is as a general he is chiefly remembered and "…having restored mobility to warfare, he exploited it with a skill amounting to genius."


1684 - 1734


Oil on canvas






Carstairs Collection
Private Collection, USA