Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Coram

The following text is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977 (now out of print). For the most up to date research on the Collection, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text. This can be accessed by following the link with each portrait’s title.

In consulting the following, please note that apart from the reformatting which allows the printed catalogue to be made available on-line the text is as published in 1977. Footnotes in the original edition are given within square brackets.

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Thomas Coram (1668?-1751)
Philanthropist; born in Lyme, Dorset; went to sea as a boy, set up as shipwright in Boston, Massachusetts, married, made his fortune and returned 1719 to London; thereafter dedicated himself to public service; a Georgia trustee, also active in the colonising of Nova Scotia; established 1745 the Foundling Hospital (renamed, 1954, the Thomas Coram Foundation for Children).

2351 Called Thomas Coram, by an unknown artist
Oil on canvas, 29 1/2 x 24 in. (749 x 622 mm); own thick iron-grey hair, shaded dark sepia, greying eyebrows, dark eyes, no lashes; grey coat, plain white steinkerk with lace, ends brown; grey background; painted oval; strongly lit from top left.

Our portrait has been erroneously equated [1] with a portrait that belonged to Dr Mead, sold as lot 6 in the 2nd day of the Mead sale, [2] 20 March 1754, 'Mr. Ramsay, Capt. Coram ¾'. Scharf, who sketched NPG 2351 on 30 May 1874 when it was in the possession of Johanna Brownlow, noted that it was 'hardly like Ramsay' and, on comparison with the Hogarth, [3] doubted its authenticity. His notebooks were not indexed when the portrait was acquired (1929) and his comment would therefore not have been readily available to the Gallery staff. The early history of the picture is not clear. By a distinctive hand and perceptively painted, it is yet unlike Ramsay's work. Costume suggests a date in the 1720s. Mead's Ramsay is now missing.

Condition: thin; surface cleaned and revarnished on acquisition; an old damage to the right of the fourth coat button down has been patched; some shrinkage and minor flaking, chiefly in the bottom six inches; old retouchings have discoloured, particularly one on the edge of the shadow beneath his right eye.

Collections: bought, 1929, from Commander E. Culme Seymour, and formerly in the possession (from c.1906-28) of Miss Dora J. Brownlow King of Bradford-on-Avon and sold by her to a Bath dealer named Wilkins (?). Both she and Johanna Brownlow equated it with the portrait belonging to Dr Mead; stated to have been bought, 1841, by Charles Pott, successively a governor, 1817, treasurer, 1839, and vice-president of the Foundling Hospital, 1856-64, by whom given c.1849 to his successor John Brownlow, and thereafter by descent.

2427 After William Hogarth, 1740
Pencil (?) and wash on paper, 9 x 7 1/2 in. (229 x 184 mm) approximately, sides irregular, in an oval; rugged features, own hair; open coat and neck-band as in the Hogarth original (see Iconography, below); black spandrels.

Two old inscriptions, Will..m Hogarth Pin and Captain Tho., are attached to, or possibly part of the paper upon which the drawing is laid down; on a paper, now removed, on the backboard of the frame, was written: This valuable and scarce portrait of Thomas Captain Coram/ was painted expressly for him by Wm Hogarth; also a stencil 673 EL.

NPG 2427 is a head and shoulders copy of the Hogarth in the Foundling Hospital, perhaps derived via McArdell's engraving, which it closely resembles.

Condition: cropped down the left-hand margin; minor loss, bottom centre, in the coat; otherwise fair.

Collections: presented, 1928, by Miss Edith Mary Scholes, the vendor, Christie's, 4 July 1927, lot 15 (bought in).

Literature: J.F. Kerslake, 'Catalogue of the Principal Pictures and Sculptures in the Foundling Hospital', 1961 (unpublished MS, NPG library)

Two authentic portraits are known, both being connected with, and in, the institution established by Coram's efforts. The famous Hogarth, engraved short half length only by McArdell, 1749, is inscribed Painted and given by Wm. Hogarth, 1740 [4] . A signature and the same date, bottom left, were also revealed after cleaning in 1967. The sitter's name is on a letter, bottom right. A full size modern copy was presented to the Foundling Hospital by R. H. Nichols in 1946. The other type is the portrait known through the engraving by T. Priscott, 1741, after B. Nebot. [5] A small whole length oil corresponding with the engraving was found in the Southampton area by Sir Alec Martin who presented it to the Foundling Hospital in 1949. The engraving by ‘Brooke', 1751, [6] is from an original then owned by Dr Nesbit, a governor of the Hospital. Another, published by C.G. Dyer in 1817, is lettered B. Nebot pinx.t 1741. The Hospital also owns a drawing initialled M.C. [7] and statuettes based on the Hogarth by M. Lievesley, 1838, and R.W. Sievier, 1833. [8]

Wrongly named portraits include a sentimentalised pastiche of Hogarth's portrait of Lovat, [9] formerly ascribed to Hayman and one, said to be by Reynolds, which was in the 'Brighton Art Loan Exhibition', 1884 (248), from the collection of J.B. Tennant.

1. Papers of the late Miss Dora J. Brownlow King, 1942, and Johanna Brownlow's letters of 26, 27 May 1874, NPG archives.
2. Catalogue of Pictures . . . of the late Richard Mead sold by Auction on March 20, 21 and 22, M.DCC.LIV, London 1755, p.vii (Lugt, 830); bought by 'Dr. Rawlinson' for 2 guineas.
3. TSB, XIX, p.69; he suggested William Dampier (1651-1715) as a possible sitter (see Piper, p.101).
4. Nicolson (40).
5. B[althazar?] Nebot, fl.1737-62.
6. Nicolson (64); cf. Strickland, I, p.113, discounting the attribution of this mezzotint to John Brooke; The Listener, 29 March 1951, illustrated p.504.
7. Nicolson (6).
8. Ibid (100 and 104).
9. Kerslake, 1961 (4).