A forgotten portrait of the man who gave us the greengage

The recently rediscovered image of Sir William Gage, 2nd Bart of Hengrave Hall

I was recently able to confirm the identity of the sitter in a hitherto forgotten portrait of Sir William Gage, 2nd Baronet of Hengrave Hall (c. 1650-1727), which was painted at the studio of Sir Godfrey Kneller in 1709. The painting was in storage at Firle Place, the home of the senior branch of the Gage family, but is today being re-hung at Firle in recognition of Sir William’s important role in the history of English horticulture. I wrote about Sir William Gage’s introduction of the Grosse Reine Claude plum to England (named the ‘greengage’ in his honour) back in 2016, putting to rest some of the confusion about which branch and which member of the Gage family gave their name to the greengage.

A 1688 portrait of Sir William Gage, 2nd Bart. of Hengrave (photographed by Edmund Farrer for his Portraits in Suffolk Houses (West) (1908)

The portrait was purchased by Sir John Wood, along with Hengrave Hall itself, in 1897. It then hung at Hengrave until the sale of 1952, when all moveable items in the house were sold. The painting was then purchased by the Hon. Irene Tennant, the sister of Henry Rainald Gage, 6th Viscount Gage of Firle Place, and on her death in 1991 it was bequeathed to Firle. The painting remained in storage at Firle, and bears an inscription identifying it as Sir William Gage of Hengrave. Comparison of the sitter with an early twentieth-century photograph of a 1688 painting of Sir William (as well as an 1818 watercolour copy of the same painting) reveals that the sitter in the 1709 portrait is certainly the same man.

This is only the second portrait of Sir William Gage I am aware of, and adds to our knowledge of the original contents of Hengrave Hall before the major sales of 1897 and 1952.