Leicester, John Fleming (DNB00)

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LEICESTER, Sir JOHN FLEMING, first Lord de Tabley (1762–1827), art patron, born at Tabley House, Cheshire, 4 April 1762, was eldest son of Sir Peter Leicester, by his wife Catherine, coheiress of Sir William Fleming of Rydal, Westmoreland. The father's name was originally Byrne, being the son of Sir John Byrne, bart., and of Merial, only child of Sir Francis Leicester, third baronet, the grandson of Sir Peter Leycester [q. v.] the antiquary; he took by act of parliament his mother's name of Leicester in 1744, and came into possession of the Leicester family estates in Cheshire; he was a man of taste, was patron of Wilson, Barret, and other well-known artists, and erected a fine house at Tabley, in which he placed pictures by his favourite artists. The son, John Fleming, was well instructed in drawing by Marras, Thomas Vivares (son of Francis Vivares the engraver), and lastly by Paul Sandby. On the death of his father in 1770 he succeeded to the baronetcy and estates. He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he proceeded M. A. in 1784, and afterwards travelled much on the continent. In Italy about 1786 he met Sir Richard Colt Hoare [q. v.] and they spent much time together in sketching and visiting the chief galleries of art in France and Italy. Many of Leicester's sketches, chiefly landscapes, together with some finished pictures in oil of a later date, are still at Tabley House, and, though not highly finished, have considerable merit. He also executed a set of lithographic prints from his own drawings of landscapes, birds, fishes, &c. One of an osprey shot at Tabley and another of the head of a Persian sheep are interesting examples. They were only circulated privately and are all rare. On returning to England Leicester determined to devote his fortune and energy to the promotion of an English school of painting and sculpture which fashion had up to that time decreed to be impossible. He gradually collected many fine examples of British art in a gallery in his London house in Hill Street, Berkeley Square, and from April 1818 onwards the public was frequently admitted to view the collection. Leicester's example, with that of his friends Hoare and Walter Ramsden Fawkes [q. v.], the patron of Turner, largely contributed to a change of taste in artistic circles, and to the extension of a discriminating patronage to the British school. In 1805-6 he aided Sir Thomas Bernard in the foundation of the British Institution for the Encouragement of British Art. 'Annals of the Fine Arts' for 1819 was dedicated to him. He was honorary member of the Royal Irish Institution and the Royal Cork Society of Arts.

Leicester was also much interested in music and in natural history, especially in birds and fishes. Shortly before his death, he projected with his friend William Jerdan [q. v.] an elaborate 'British Ichthyology.' He was also noted as one of the best pistol shots of his time.

Meanwhile, Leicester had paid some attention to politics. He was elected M.P. for Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, in 1791 , for Heytesbury, Wiltshire, in 1796, and for Stockbridge, Hampshire, in 1807. In parliament he supported the prince regent, and soon became one of the prince's intimate friends. He acted as lieutenant-colonel of the Cheshire militia, and after thirteen years' service was appointed colonel of a regiment of cavalry raised for home defence. He was among the first who proffered his services to the crown when Bonaparte threatened to invade the country, and raised the regiment eventually called the king's regiment of Cheshire yeoman cavalry. Some years afterwards, in 1817, this regiment received the thanks of the prince regent and government for its activity in dispersing the Blanketeers in Lancashire. Leicester was created Baron De Tabley on 16 July 1826. He died at Tabley House on 18 June 1827.

Part of his collection of pictures of the English school, of which a descriptive catalogue by William Carey was published in 1810, was sold by auction soon after his death and realised 7,466l.

Leicester married, on 9 Nov. 1810, Georgiana Maria, youngest daughter of Lieutenant-colonel Cottin. She was remarkable for her beauty. Her portrait in the character of Hope, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, is well known, and has been many times engraved. There are also engraved portraits of her after Simpson, and one kit-cat size by Charles Turner, from a full-length painting by Owen, which is at Tabley.

Of Leicester himself there are engraved portraits by Young, Bell, and Thomson, all after Sir Joshua Keynolds; another, by H. Meyer, of Lord de Tabley as colonel of the kings Cheshire yeomanry, and a folio engraving by S. W. Reynolds, after Sir Joshua Keynolds and J. Northcote, in uniform with horse.

[Carey's Patronage of Art, with Anecdotes of Lord de Tabley, 1826; Repository, vol. ii.; Gent. Mag. 1827, pt. ii. p. 273; information kindly supplied by the present Lord de Tabley; Jerdan's Autobiography.]

A. N.