William Wilberforce

1 portrait

William Wilberforce, by Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1828 - NPG 3 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

William Wilberforce

by Sir Thomas Lawrence
oil on canvas, 1828
38 in. x 43 in. (965 mm x 1092 mm)
Given by executors of Sir Robert Harry Inglis, 2nd Bt, 1857
Primary Collection
NPG 3


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Sitterback to top

  • William Wilberforce (1759-1833), Philanthropist and reformer. Sitter associated with 31 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), Portrait painter, collector and President of the Royal Academy. Artist associated with 683 portraits, Sitter in 25 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Wilberforce generally took a conservative position on matters of domestic security, free trade and the constitution. However, he was fiercely independent and would side with opposition politicians like Brougham, Petty-Fitzmaurice or Romilly to achieve his idealistic goals. Wilberforce was well-liked: Lawrence's unfinished portrait was said to capture 'the intellectual power and winning sweetness of the veteran statesman'.

Wilberforce struggled with personal illness. He developed ulcerative colitis in his 20s. The doctors prescribed opium, though he never developed an addiction to this drug it had the effect of damaging his eyesight and affecting his ability to think during his bouts of illness. In his early 50s Wilberforce developed a curvature of the spine so that one shoulder began to slope so that his head fell a little forward each year until it rested on his chest. He was forced to wear a metal support to maintain his head position.

This portrait shows Wilberforce with his right shoulder sloping and his head tilted to the side as if to suggest his crippled appearance.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Audio Guide
  • Cooper, John, Great Britons: The Great Debate, 2002, p. 13
  • Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 139
  • Levey, Michael, Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1979 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 9 November 1979 - 16 March 1980)
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 108
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 116
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 116
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 661
  • Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 554
  • Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 47

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top