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.

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