The Death of Cardinal Beaufort (1399–1447) is an oil painting by the English artist Joshua Reynolds, illustrating a scene from William Shakespeare’s play Henry VI, Part II.
Now in the possession of the National Trust, recent renovation work has revealed the presence in the picture of a demon lurking in the shadows. The presence of the fiend was controversial when the painting was first exhibited in 1789, as it was not considered proper to include an imaginary creature in such a painting, and over time, with some overpainting and revarnishing, the demon had gradually disappeared.
The painting depicts the second part of William Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part II, Act III, Scene iii, showing Cardinal Beaufort, Chancellor of England, on his deathbed, surrounded by his great nephew King Henry VI and the Lords Warwick and Salisbury. In the play, King Henry laments the cardinal’s imminent death, saying:
Look with a gentle eye upon this wretch; O! beat away the busy medling fiend That lays strong siege unto this wretch’s soul And from his bosom purge this black despair.
Exhibition and provenance
The painting was first exhibited at the Shakespeare Gallery in 1789. It was bought in 1805 by the 3rd Earl of Egremont for £530.5s, equivalent to about £45,800 as at 2021,[a]Calculated using the retail price index. and by descent came into the possession of Charles Henry Wyndham, 3rd Lord Leconfield, who died in 1952.
The painting, along with many other items in the family’s collection, was accepted by HM Treasury in lieu of death duties on Leconfield’s estate in 1956, the first ever such agreement with HM Treasury, after which the painting was transferred to the National Trust. It is currently in the Trust’s collection at Petworth House in West Sussex.
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