Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Gibbs

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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James Gibbs (1682-1754)
Architect; studied under Fontana in Rome; returned, 1709, to England and patronised by the Earls of Mar and Oxford; as one of the surveyors to the Commissioners for Building Fifty New Churches in London, designed St Mary-le-Strand, completed 1723-24, and St Martin-in-the-Fields, completed 1726; influenced by Wren and Hawksmoor, the latter his unsuccessful rival for the commission for the Radcliffe Library, Oxford, completed 1749.

504 By John Michael Williams, c.1752(?)
Oil on canvas, 35 ¾ x 27 ¾ in. (908 x 705 mm); pale blue eyes, broad face, fresh complexion, grey wig to shoulders; greyish-white neck-tie and wrist ruffles, grey velvet coat open to waist, gold-brocaded waistcoat; in his right hand he holds dividers and with his left he points to a plan [of the Radcliffe Library] spread on a book, his elbow resting on another book bound in brown calf and lettered GIBBS / ARCHIT; brown background.

Signed below his right shoulder in black: J. Williams Pinx., the J rather faint. On the top bar of the stretcher a stencil 24 H, and in ink on a paper on the back of the centre bar: Portrait of Gibbs, the Architect, from Mr. Sharpe's Collection / I bought from his Seat at Brockley Hill, Middx, on / the demolition of the House in [paper torn] 1830. / Thomas Sharpe Smith / 21 Nov. 18(44)—the last two figures indistinct.

The Bodleian possesses an almost identical picture signed and dated 1752. [1] The relationship between this and NPG 504 has yet to be clarified. The book lettered ARCHIT in our picture could be either Gibbs' A Book of Architecture, published 1728, or his Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture . . ., 1732, and the unlettered volume his drawings for the Radcliffe, published as Bibliotheca Radcliviana, 1747. The type seems to associate Gibbs with the Radcliffe building (1737-49) but it is not known whether it was painted in the early stages of the work or after its completion. The Bodleian version may have been painted as a thank-offering to the university, from whom Gibbs received an honorary MA in 1749.

Condition: a discolouration in the back of the chair probably conceals an old damage; some retouching round the edges; the relining canvas is now frail and the varnish somewhat discoloured.

Collections: bought 1878, Christie's 26 July, 2nd day, lot 274 (an extra lot); purchased as recorded on the stretcher, by Thomas Sharpe Smith, 1830. In 1872 [2] Scharf noted it at a Captain F. Harrison Smith's, Cavendish Road, London, by whom it was offered with other portraits including those of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond and Lord Grandison, all 'formerly in Mr Sharpe's collection at Brockley Hill House, Edgware'. [3] NPG 504 is therefore presumably the 'head of Gibbs the architect' seen there, with other portraits, by Lysons [4] who referred to Mr Sharpe, an attorney, [5] as having been secretary to the Duke of Chandos; it was the Duke's seat at Cannons that Gibbs had rebuilt 'at vast Expence'. [6] Though not mentioned in the inventories, the portrait may thus once have belonged to the Duke himself. No information is available regarding the relationship, if any, between Mr Sharpe, Thomas Sharpe Smith and Captain Harrison Smith.

Engraved: by J. McArdell, undated, with the following additions, as in the Bodleian version: the plan lettered A plan of the Radcliffe library, a square between the books, and an elevation of the library tucked in beneath the volume under his left arm.

Literature: W. Nisser, Michael Dahl, Uppsala, 1927; C.H. Collins Baker and M.I. Baker, The Life of James Brydges, First Duke of Chandos, 1949; B. Little, The Life and Works of James Gibbs, 1955.

Iconography
Although some of the portraits he mentions are now apparently lost and others mis-named, Vertue [7] remains the best source. Authentic portraits, especially in the sitter's later years, are not uncommon. An oil by Hysing is now known only through P. Pelham's engraving (CS 21) made before 1726, the year the latter went to America. This makes Gibbs look taller and thinner than in the two Rysbrack busts inscribed 1726, one of which is over a door in the Bodleian [8] and the other in St Martin-in-the-Fields 'extreamly like him a bald head. Cutt in Marble from that another basso relievo. with a wigg on'. [9] An undated portrait at Sotheby's, 17 June 1959, lot 4, formerly at Alloa as by Dahl, shows the sitter holding a rectilinear plan, as yet unidentified. It was possibly painted for his patron John, 6th Earl of Mar (1675-1732). [10]

Gibbs' book plate by Bernard Baron (O'D 8), a profile head to the right, 1736, shows him rather fuller of face, as do other portraits from this date on. The Hogarth, now lost, was engraved by Baron by 1747 for Gibbs' Bibliotheca Radcliviana and by McArdell undated. The face is similar to Williams' portrait, a version of which, dated 1752, was in the Bodleian by 1760. [11] The rather wooden three-quarter length donated by Gibbs to St Mary's Hall, sponsors of his honorary MA in 1749, is now at Oriel. [12] An oil at St Martin-in-the-Fields, formerly attributed to Hogarth, shows the Radcliffe nearly finished. Its more recent attribution to Soldi derives, no doubt, from Vertue's reference c.1746 that he painted Gibbs. [13]

The portrait with the publishers Batsford in 1938, acquired by the Scottish NPG as Gibbs by Soldi, has a distinctive cleft chin and, though connected with the Radcliffe, does not seem correctly named. Townsend, one of the masons, has been suggested but he died in 1739. [14] It might conceivably be his successor William Smith. The relationship to the St Martin's portrait is puzzling for, although the two pictures do not seem to be the same sitter, the background of the Radcliffe with scaffolding on either side of the cupola is common to both; it also appears in the smaller version of the St Martin's portrait owned by Truman, Hanberry, Buxton & Co Ltd. An enamel by Zincke was exhibited in 1889 and 1891, when in the collection of W.W. Aston. [15] In addition to the 1726 Rysbrack bust over a door, the Radcliffe also received in 1845, a bust showing Gibbs much older. [16]

Vertue, followed by Walpole, is the sole authority for the portrait by 'Schryder', possibly G.E. Schröder, in England 1718-25. [17] A portrait in the Sir Thomas Seabright sale 1737, [18] and one by Dahl, Earl of Oxford sale, March 1741, 2nd day, lot 31, are now lost, as is a bust recorded in the Strawberry Hill sale, 13 May 1842 (17th day), lot 99. An undated portrait by Bartholomew Dandridge at Orleans House, Twickenham, Ionides collection, is signed with initials and probably of the 1740s. Its history is not known before 1955 and despite some resemblance to the sitter, its identity remains open.

Gibbs appears in 'Conversation of Virtuosis' by Gawen Hamilton, 1735 (see below Groups, NPG 1384).

Notes
I. Colvin, p.230; Poole, I, p.102 (254), as listed in the 1760 catalogue.
2. TSB, XVIII, f.43.
3. Offers Book, NPG archives.
4. Lysons, 1795, II, p.246; cp Beauties, X, part v, p.649.
5. Collins Baker, p.366, note; p.389.
6. Colvin, p.233.
7. Vertue, III, pp.13, 17, 56, 71, 132, 162.
8. Poole, I, p.226 (685).
9. Vertue, III, p.13. Exh. 'Painting and Sculpture in England 1700-1750', Liverpool, 1958(49); see also Webb, pp.53, 216, fig.10.
10. Colvin, p.229.
11. Poole, I, p.102 (254).
12. Ibid, II, p.88 (25), artist unknown; Colvin, p.230
13. Vertue, III, p.132.
14. Little, p.131.
15. 'Exhibition of Portrait Miniatures', 1889 (16); ‘Royal House of Guelph', 1891 (563).
16. Poole, I, p.226 (686).
17. Vertue, III, p.13; Anecdotes . . ., II, p.694.
18. Nisser, p.143.