Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin

Lord Elgin was born on 20th July 1766 and became famous for bringing the Elgin marbles to Britain. He inherited the title from his brother when he was five and entered the army in 1785 as an officer in the Scots Guards, rising to the rank of Major-General. He was also a diplomat and was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803. At that time the empire included Greece which suited Elgin very well as he was keenly interested in classical art. During the conflict between Greece and Turkey, he took it upon himself to remove the marbles from the Parthenon, with the permission of the Turkish authorities.

This proved to be fraught with difficulty as damage was done to the carvings when they were removed and the first shipment to Britain was sunk. He was accused of vandalism by several people including Lord Byron. He never recouped the cost of their removal and transport.

He caught the plague during his travels and became disfigured, losing his nose. This caused problems with his young wife and she had an affair with her male companion who was travelling with her since Elgin himself had been captured by the French. He was unlucky enough to be travelling through France as war broke out in 1803. He did not arrive home until 1806. Later he married another, even younger wife. He took little part in public life after this and died on 14th November 1841.

The painting is dated around 1788. The coat he is wearing is the frock with the lapel buttoned over in the style that was fashionable in the late 1780s and early 90s. There is only one epaulette so he is a junior officer at this stage. He has no sword belt or gorget so he is not on duty. He holds a hat with no lace round the edge but there is a gold tassel showing. A close up view of the picture reveals star badges on the buttons.

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by Stephen Luscombe