The Inner Temple: A Community of Communities
by Tom Shields QC, Master of the Pictures until 2017
A comparison of the catalogues of the Inn’s collection of portraits made in 1915 and 1982 reveals the substantial damage suffered during the Second World War. Over 150 paintings were lost. Fortunately the Inn still retains a large collection of portraits of its famous, favourite and most successful members. Sitters include monarchs, numerous Lord Chancellors (a full house in fact), Lord Chief Justices and holders of every rank of judicial office, including the first lady High Court Judge, Dame Elizabeth Lane. Fearless advocacy is represented by Marshall Hall and the arts by A P Herbert, the author of Misleading Cases. However, in contrast to those of the great and the good, there is the fine portrait of John Herbert by Carlo Maratta. Herbert was admitted in 1664 and was described by Walpole in his Anecdotes of Painting as ‘a great virtuoso who was called the rough diamond’.
Also of particular interest are the portraits of the four so-called fire judges, Sir John Vaughan, Sir Orlando Bridgman, Sir Thomas Tyrrell and Sir Heneage Finch, which hang in the Hall Gallery. Following the devastation caused by the Great Fire of London in 1666, twenty-two of the chief judges of England were charged by the Court of Alderman of the City of London with resolving the numerous boundary and tenancy disputes which had arisen. Out of gratitude for their work the court commissioned Joseph Michael Wright to paint their individual portraits for £60 apiece. These portraits had a peripatetic existence within the Guildhall until in 1952 the court decided to present them to interested bodies or individuals. Hence their presence in the Inn’s collection.
Although many other portraits have come as gifts or bequests, it is clear that commissioning portraits has been a tradition since the seventeenth century. In 1694 £50 was paid to Sir Godfrey Kneller, a leading painter of the day, for two full length oils of William III and Queen Mary which were then ‘set up in ye Hall’ where, in its rebuilt state, they can be viewed today. Kneller’s fame was obviously in the ascendant (or he had a good agent), as in 1703 he charged the Inn ‘four-score pounds’ for a portrait of Queen Anne in which she stands crowned wearing the Order of St George.
Kneller is just one of many illustrious artists whose works are represented in the Inn; Allan Ramsay George Romney and John Hoppner were the equals in their day to De Lazlo, Sir Oswald Birley, Augustus John, Sir Herbert Gunn and Sir John Lavery in the last century. Lavery’s portrait of Lord Darling, renowned for his acerbic wit in court, might not be to everybody’s taste. It shows the judge wearing a black cap and on the reverse it bears the inscription, ‘Condamnation a Mort. Dedicated with the painter’s compliments to the hanging committee’ (of the Royal Academy). This portrait was painted shortly after Darling had been a member of the Court of Appeal which had dismissed Sir Roger Casement’s appeal against his conviction for treason and his sentence of execution.
The power over life and death probably explains the expressions of austerity and severity which characterise so many sitters. This is particularly evident in Augustus John’s three-quarterlength portrait of Thomas Inskip (1876–1947), who in turn became Solicitor-General, Attorney -General, Lord Chancellor and Lord Chief Justice. Painted in 1940, Inskip looks distinctively unamused. Maybe John’s reputation as a philanderer required a necessary degree of public disapprobation.
Today a lighter touch can be brought to the Inn’s commissions. The recent portraits of the five judges by Jane Mendoza, of Lord Irvine by James Lloyd, of Lord Rawlinson by Keith Breedon RP and of Lord Woolf by Andrew Tift capture their subjects in relaxed and friendly mood.
As Gainsborough observed, the painter’s eye is what the lawyer’s tongue is to him.