Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Gray

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 Gray (1716-71)
Poet, classical scholar; of humble origin, educated at Eton with Horace Walpole, [1] who became his life-long friend and with whom he toured the Continent, 1739-40; Ode on a distant Prospect of Eton College, published anonymously, 1747; Ode to Spring and On the Death of a Favourite Cat, 1748, in Dodsley's collections; Elegy in a Country Churchyard, published 1751; lived most of his life in Cambridge moving, 1765, on his appointment as professor of history and modern languages, from Peterhouse to Pembroke College.

989 By John Giles Eccardt, 1747-48
Oil on canvas, 15 7/8 x 12 7/8 in. (403 x 327 mm); light brown eyebrows, blue eyes, blue shadow on upper lip, own (?) brown hair to shoulders; black gown, white shirt open at neck, blue drapery over his left shoulder; in his right hand a paper, barely legible, lettered: Distant/Prospect [2 lines]/College/ Nec licuit / populis . .; plain brown background; lit from the right.

An old manuscript label, in ink, stuck to the stretcher, reads: Thomas Gray/ by Eckardt/ 1750; it is in the same hand (unidentified) as on NPG 988; [1] 'NPE' 1867 label, now torn and illegible, removed to the picture dossier, 1933.

NPG 989, the first certain portrait of Gray, was painted for Walpole by John Giles Eccardt, an artist of German origin who settled in England and worked with Vanloo from at least 1742. [2] The dates 1750 in the Strawberry Hill sale catalogue and 1747 given in the NPG short catalogue are incorrect. In a letter dated 10 September 1771 following the sitter's death on 30 July, Walpole wrote to his friend the Rev. William Cole, the antiquary, offering to James Brown, Master of Pembroke and Gray's executor, 'a copy of a small picture I have of Mr Gray, painted soon after the publication of the Ode on Eton . . . and after his [Brown's] death I will beg it may be bequeathed to his college'. [3] The ode was published in the, summer of 1747. Gray's comment in a letter to Wharton dated January or February 1748, that a friend carried him to the Grand-Masquerade and desired him to sit for his picture is usually taken to refer to the Eccardt portrait. [4] If this is so, Walpole's 'soon after' must extend into 1748. The 'copy' offered to Brown is still at Pembroke.

The original (NPG 989) was one of the portraits by Eccardt 'from Vandyck' in the Blue Bed Chamber at Strawberry Hill [5] and must certainly have been there by 18 May 1754 when Walpole wrote to Bentley: '. . . In each panel round the room is a single picture; Gray's, Sir Charles Williams's, and yours, in their black and gold frames; mine is to match yours . . .’ [6] The portrait of Gray, no doubt due to his love of music, [7] is based on the Vandyck of Liberti, the celebrated organist of Antwerp Cathedral, now in the Munich Alte Pinakothek. After listing it in 1784: 'Mr Thomas Gray; taken from the portrait of a musician by Vandyck, at the Duke of Grafton's', Walpole further noted that it included '. . . this motto, alluding to his Ode on Eton, which though one of his best productions, was his first published, Nec licuit populis parvum te, Nile, videre'. [8] The portrait of the writer Richard Bentley (1708-82) shows him holding in one hand 'his own design of the figure of Melancholy, drawn by him for the edition of Mr. Gray's Odes'. [9] Williams' portrait is discussed under this sitter, below. At the time of the 1842 sale, the portraits were still in the 'fine old carved' frames noted by Walpole in 1784 '. . . black and gold, carved after those to Lombard's prints from Vandyck, but with emblems peculiar to each person'. The present gilt frames, as Adams points out, [10] date from at least 1867 when NPG 989 and 988 were in the 'NPE', and photographed, that year. The frames which were masked out can be seen in the negatives (V & A archives) and are clearly not those described by Walpole. General Sir Henry Jackson, descendant of the Thorntons, former owners, believes it unlikely that they were changed by his ancestors. Repairs were carried out in 1962.

A photograph of a whole length oil (Witt Library), probably small and with face mask similar to NPG 989, has Thomas Gray on the stonework, right. The composition, with landscape background, is reminiscent of Carmontelle's literary portraits (see below, Laurence Sterne, NPG 2785). Unknown before the late 1930s when owned by G.A. Plimpton, New York, it may prove to be a pastiche.

Condition: dirty, perished varnish; many discolourations presumably from retouchings; a grey bloom under the chin; pin holes in corners.

Collections: bought, 1895, from Colnaghi's, with Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (NPG 988); from the son of Canon F.V. Thornton whose father-in-law, the Rev. H.G. Cholmondeley, had purchased it at the Strawberry Hill sale, 1842, 22nd day, lot 30.

Engraved: a plate, believed destroyed, was engraved by J. Miller for the frontispiece to Designs by Mr R. Bentley for Six Poems by Mr T. Gray, 1753, and sent to the poet who apparently instructed that it be suppressed; numerous copies were however preserved. [11] For later engravings, see O'Donoghue.

Exhibited: 'NPE', 1867 (375), lent by the Rev. F.V. Thornton; 'English Taste in the Eighteenth Century', RA, 1955-56 (313).

425 By James Basire, from a sketch by the Rev. William Mason of c.1771 or before
Pencil on paper, 10 ¼ x 8 in. (261 x 203 mm); profile; prominent beaked nose, compressed lips, high forehead, wig tied in a queue with two rows of curls over the ear; coat unbuttoned with collar turned down; all within two semi-circular boughs of bay open at the top; lit from the left, the background lower half, in shadow.

Signed in pencil below the wreath, centre right: J Basire d., the JB in monogram.

Though it cannot be from life, NPG 425 is of better quality than Basire's engraving [12] which, as shown by the lettering W. Mason & B. Wilson Vivi memores delineavere, also used the Wilson derivative from Mason's profile type (see Iconography). A similar drawing in the Hurd episcopal library at Hartlebury, also with wig and two rows of curls, has the queue disappearing behind the collar. This may be by, or after, Mason. A pen and brush drawing, similar but reversed, pasted in the margin of a large scrap-book at Nuneham is inscribed Mr Gray drawn by Mr Mason. Seen there and traced by Scharf, 3 December 1880, it has been suggested as the drawing, known through engravings by Trotter and Smith, formerly owned by the Rev. M. Potter of Scarning, Norfolk. If this is correct, the engravers used considerable licence. For his engraving Basire may also have used a drawing by the Rev. Michael Tyson made, according to a letter to Gough, 1 January 1775, 'from the shadow and my own ideas of Mr. Gray, very soon after his death'. He continues that Mason did not think it a good likeness but if 'Basire is still desirous of having it, it shall be sent'. [13] Nothing is known of this drawing and there is no engraving of it, but it appears that Basire considered Tyson's suggestions. On the 19 February Tyson wrote to Gough, 'The engraving of Gray does Basire great honour indeed—not so the Draughtsmen. I think it is a good caricatura likeness—but that smirk should be removed.—I shall send Basire my strictures; but I could very little touch it up, as I could not remove the shades.' Gough replied, 'Your idea of Gray's Portrait was very just: Basire says, Mr. Mason will permit it to be adopted; otherwise it will really be a Caricature.' [14] William Cole, who saw Tyson's drawing and thought it was copied from Mason, [15] also implied that Tyson was involved in the Basire engraving. He noted that a print of Scipio in the arbour in a Dutch edition of Gil Blas, 'was so like the countenance of Mr. Gray, that if he sat for it, it could not be more so . . . It is ten times more like him than his print before Mason's life of him, which is horrible, and makes him a fury. That little one done by Mr. Mason is like him; and placid Mr. Tyson spoilt the other by altering it' [16] All the early editions of Mason's Life contain either the Basire engraving of the Mason and Wilson type or the Doughty engraving. Cole must be referring to Tyson's contribution to the Basire engraving.

Condition: slightly rubbed; discoloured area 9 ¼ x 8 in. where exposed to light; the paper originally white, is now slightly pink; glue stains and pin holes at the corners; a later mount replaces one shown in a photograph received 19 December 1889.

Collections: bought, 8 May 1876, from Sotheby's, part of lot 74, from the sale of Lt-Col. Francis Cunningham's collection.

Exhibited: 'David Garrick and Some of his Contemporaries', Stratford, 1969 (55).

781 By an unknown artist
Plaster bust, painted black, 21 ½ in. (546 mm); hair brushed back and close to head, eyeballs incised, neck bare, no drapery.

The bust was attributed on acquisition to John Bacon, the elder (1740-99) but in 1925 this was questioned by Mrs Esdaile and has now been abandoned. Bacon's monument in Westminster Abbey executed in 1771 bears no relation to NPG 781 which is, in fact, of too poor quality to be by him. Nor is there any record of any other design by this sculptor or by his sons, John Bacon, the younger (1777-1859) and T. Bacon. The bust, first recorded when engraved in 1819, was stated in the Stoke Poges catalogue of 1851 to have been intended for the flower garden at Stoke Poges House where Gray was a frequent visitor. In August 1758, for example, he wrote to Wharton that he had 'been obliged to go every day almost to Stoke-house . . .'. [17] The bust probably derives from the profile drawn by Mason which it closely resembles. An anecdote quoted in the sale catalogue as 'related to Mr. Robert Osborn, now resident at Fulham' recounts that 'an old man of the name of Richard Hestor, who had in his youth lived in the service of Gray, was, in my presence, taken to see several busts which were about to be placed in the Flower Garden at Stoke Park, without being told that Gray's was among them; he at once identified it and said "That is my old Master" and further remarked that it was very like'.

Collections: presented, 1888, by Joshua W. Butterworth, FSA, son of the purchaser at Sotheby's sale, collection of manuscripts and relics of Gray removed from Stoke Poges House, 28 August 1851, lot 138: 'Posthumous Bust of the Poet Gray. A Plaster Bust with detached Pedestal'. The pedestal is now missing.

Condition: a number of paint losses; white plaster showing through.

Engraved: 'An engraving of it in a book dated 1819', prefixed to Sharpe's edition of Gray's Letters. [18]

Literature: H. Walpole, A Description of the Villa of Mr. Horace Walpole . . . at Straw­berry Hill, 1784; J. Nichols, Literary Anecdotes, 1814; The Works of Thomas Gray, ed. J. Mitford, 1835-43; Strawberry Hill sale catalogue, 1842; G. Scharf, 'A Newly Discovered Portrait of Thomas Gray, the Poet', Athenaeum, 24 February, 1894; Strawberry Hill Accounts, ed. P. Toynbee, 1927; Correspondence of Thomas Gray, ed. P. Toynbee and L. Whibley, 1935; Horace Walpole's Correspondence, ed. W.S. Lewis, 1937-65 (in progress); J.W. Goodison, 'A Silhouette of Thomas Gray by the Rev. Francis Mapletoft', Apollo, September 1948; J.W. Goodison, Cambridge Portraits, 1955.

Appearance
Norton Nicholls, a close friend since Gray's student days, refers to the lightning of his eye, his 'folgorante sguardo'. William Cole records: 'His person was small, well put together, and latterly tending to plumpness . . . I heard him say he never was across a horse's back in his life' . . . he was 'very nice and exact' in his person and dress, 'most lively and agreeable in conversation, except apt to be too satirical and . . . full of affectation'. [19]

Iconography
A considerable body of material exists and much research was undertaken by Sir George Scharf and by the editors of Gray's correspondence, Leonard Whibley and Dr Paget Toynbee. Whibley's notes, produced in consultation with the late Sir Henry Hake and deposited in the NPG library, 1936, have been freely drawn on though not invariably followed. Valuable new material is provided by the contributors to the Yale edition of Horace Walpole's correspondence.

There is evidence that Gray was sensitive about his likeness and probably not easily persuaded to sit. Portraits in his lifetime derive from the painting by Eccardt, drawings by his friend the poet Mason who also dabbled in oils, and the silhouettes or shades taken by Francis Mapletoft, a fellow of Gray's college, Pembroke. A number of engravings by Basire were prepared for the author's works. Benjamin Wilson worked up oil portraits with some assistance from Mason and Nathan[iel] Drake of York. The Eccardt painted for Walpole stands on its own but is a work of charm rather than weight. The wonder is, since Gray sat probably only to one professional, Eccardt, that his features have come down to posterity at all, but as Scharf aptly states, there is no mistaking 'his birdlike countenance, with his round polished forehead, beaked nose and hawk-like eye'. [20]

The earliest likeness Mason's drawing still at Pembroke initialled W M in monogram and inscribed [cui] Spiritum Graiae tenuem Camenae / Parca non mendax dedit et malignum/ spernere vulgus [21] ('to whom Fate promised at his birth (and kept her promise) the sweet slight whisper of a Grecian Muse—that, and indifference to vulgar judgements'). The portrait is a profile to the left, without wig, in which the poet looks younger than in any other; the engraving to the right, with wig (O'D 3), also by Mason, W Mason fecit sibi et amicis, is very similar, though the sitter now looks older. It is possibly the etching mentioned by Gray in his letter to Brown, 1760, 'he has lately etch'd my head with his own hand'. [22] In his list of 1784 Walpole included 'Mr. Thomas Gray; etched from his shade by Mr. W. Mason'. [23] This might be the etching in his copy of the Poems, 1775. The print can be dated c.1756 from Walpole's annotation. [24] The portrait first etched by Doughty 'from an Original Drawing' for Mason's four-volume edition of the Poems, 1778 is similar. A drawing like this, profile to the left without wig, was at Sotheby's 30 April 1970, lot 23, [25] but despite an accompanying paper stating Gray the Poet done by himself/ presented to Mr. Leake Stephens/ with Mrs. Smith's compliments/ January 20th 1828, it appears to be a copy.

Three silhouettes by Mapletoft, 'taken with an instrument for that purpose', [26] are known. Dated c.1760, 1761 and 1765, two are still at Pembroke and the third in the Fitzwilliam Museum. [27] Another, whole length, first published by Toynbee, 1928, from I.H.H. Gosset's collection at Windsor, [28] and attributed to Mrs Wray, wife of the antiquary Daniel Wray, was apparently taken in 1762. However, like the example published in 1894 when in the library of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, [29] it may prove to be the work of Miss Lucy Lind, daughter of Dr James Lind (1736-1812), a resident of Windsor. A rather similar silhouette, descended in the Wollaston family, may be due to the sitter's friendship with George Wollaston, FRS (1738-1826), but its authorship has yet to be established. Seen at the Gallery, 1972, it is one of a group of Cambridge personalities which includes the astronomer Roger Long (1680-1770), master of Pembroke from 1733 until his death, and the 2nd Earl of Hardwicke (see Hardwicke, 1st Earl, Iconography).

Correspondence after Gray's death reveals that Mason was involved in the production of posthumous paintings by Benjamin Wilson and another composite image, an etching perhaps intended for the 1778 edition of the Poems. Referring presumably to a drawing or to one of Mapletoft's shades, altered, Mason wrote to Alderson, 13 December 1771: 'There is a shadow of Mr Gray cut out, with the eyes, mouth, etc. drawn upon it in large, which you will find in the book of blue paper, amongst prints etc. lying on the table in the closet where my books are. Pray send it by Benjamin, for Wilson is making a picture of him and I would willingly give him all the helps in my power.’ [30] About 11 August 1772, writing from York, Mason sent to Gray's friend, Dr Thomas Wharton, 'a small box wch contains the 2nd attempt I have made of Mr. Gray's Portrait wch I think is infinitely better in point of Likeness, as well as painting than the former—indeed as a Picture it owes its merit to another hand for when I had finished it myself in point of likeness, I got Mr. Drake, an ingenious Artist who lives here to soften the coloring & to finish the drapery background &c'. [31] The writer asks Wharton to keep the oil until it can be carried to London so that 'Wilson may correct his two larger pictures by it'. The painting has not been identified. It is tempting to suppose that the portrait in the Minster Library, York, traditionally given to Doughty and described to Hake, July 1939, as Gray by Mason, might prove to be the improved version, but in view of the poor quality, contrasted with Drake's known work, [32] it seems unlikely. Doughty's etching bears some resemblance to this oil, reversed, but no original oil is known and the ‘Original Drawing' has not been traced.

The first of Wilson's 'two larger pictures' is presumably the one bequeathed by Mason to his friend Richard Stonhewer [33] and by him to Pembroke College, where it still is. Engraved by Pollard after Wilson, a version was at Christie's, 29 July 1937, lot 160. It remains unclear whether the second is a repetition of the profile or, as Scharf suggests, perhaps the oil discovered in the collection of John Murray in 1894. [34] This is the only three-quarter face of the sitter and although, as far as is known, Wilson had access only to the profiles of Mason and the silhouettes, it would not be impossible for an artist of his skill to produce a convincing three-quarter portrait from these.

In a letter, 23 March 1774, discussing the profiles and the contrast between early and later years, Walpole wrote to Mason: 'I was on both sides; for your print, as the more agreeable; for Wilson's picture as extremely like, though a likeness that shocks one; there are marks, evident marks of its being painted after Gray's death—I would not hang it up in my house for the world.' [35] The print referred to would either be that engraved by Basire, used in the 1775 Poems, or less likely (from the context) Charles Carter's engraving described by Walpole as 'too cheerful' and showing too much 'vivacity'. [36]

A portrait of a youth owned, 1814, by 'Robinson Esqr of Cambridge' [37] when engraved by Hopwood (O'D 15) and now in the Fitzwilliam, is said to represent Gray at the age of fifteen and to be by Richardson. Identification has yet to be proved. According to Toynbee and Whibley, it was left by the sitter to his cousin Mary Antrobus, afterwards Mrs Robinson. [38] While she was certainly a beneficiary, no pictures are mentioned in the will. [39] The attribution to Richardson is untenable. Pond has also been suggested. [40]

Notes
1. To be discussed in a subsequent volume under Orford, 4th Earl; see also C. Kingsley Adams and W.S. Lewis, 'Portraits of Horace Walpole', Walpole Society, XLII, 1970, pp.12-13.
2. Vertue, III, p.110.
3. Lewis, I, (Cole, I), p.237.
4. Toynbee and Whibley, I, pp.303-04, and note 3.
5. Walpole, A Description of the Villa . . ., p.29.
6. Strawberry Hill Accounts, p.73. Walpole's portrait, NPG 988, will be discussed in a later volume of Georgian Portraits.
7. Toynbee and Whibley, III, p.1319.
8. Walpole, A Description of the Villa . . ., p.29 and note.
9. Ibid, p.29. Editor's note, 2013: this portrait now belongs to the National Portrait Gallery.
10. 'Portraits of Horace Walpole', sup. cit.
11. Lewis, 28 (Mason, I), p.20 and note; Lewis, 14 (Gray, II), p.63.
12. Cp Scharf, NPG library notes.
13. Nichols, Literary Anecdotes, VIII, pp.612-13; Tyson (1740-80), antiquary and artist, knew both Mason and Gray, DNB, XIX, pp.1376-77.
14. Nichols, sup. cit., pp. 614-15.
15. Toynbee and Whibley, III, p.1279 and note 9.
16. Mitford, I, pp.c-ci.
17. Toynbee and Whibley, II, p.584, letter 277.
18. Whibley, letter 30 November 1936, NPG archives.
19. Mitford, V, p.5; I, pp.c-ci.
20. Scharf's notes, NPG archives.
21. SSB, CVI, p.45; Horace Odes, 2. 16, 38-40, preceded by 'cui', as kindly indicated by A.V. Grimstone, Pembroke College (letter 27 August 1970, NPG archives).
22. Toynbee and Whibley, II, p.706, letter 322.
23. Walpole, A Description of the Villa . . ., p.25.
24. 'from a drawing by Mr Mason, when Mr Gray was about 40', Lewis 28 (Mason, I), reproduced opposite p.98, a unique impression?
25. First seen there 16 December, 1958, lot 487.
26. Mitford, I, p.lxii, note.
27. Goodison, 'A Silhouette . . .’, p.66.
28. Times, 30 October 1930, letter from P. Toynbee.
29. Athenaeum, 14 April 1894, p.483.
30. Lewis, 28 (Mason, I), p.98, note 12.
31. Times, 25 September 1928, letter from P. Toynbee.
32. Information from J. Ingamells.
33. Stonhewer (d.1809) secured Gray the chair of history and modern languages in 1768.
34. Scharf, 'A Newly Discovered Portrait', pp.251-52.
35. Lewis, 28 (Mason, I), pp.140-41, and notes 9-11.
36. Ibid.
37. Goodison, I, p.83.
38. Toynbee and Whibley, III, p.1310, note k, and Goodison, ibid, note a.
39. Ibid, pp.1283-86.
40. A portrait by him mentioned by the antiquary Jacob Bryant in 1798; see letter from R.W. Ketton-Cremer, Times Literary Supplement, 28 October 1948, p.697.