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Sir William Chambers

7 of 1413 portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Sir William Chambers

by Sir Joshua Reynolds
circa 1756
35 in. x 27 in. (889 mm x 686 mm)
NPG 27


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This portraitback to top

A composition resolved with difficulty. Chambers was first portrayed as a professional architect with (we may assume) plans before him, and then cast in the nobler role of thinker. Such elevation anticipates Reynolds’s later comment that 'though he was President [of the Royal Academy], Sir Wm. was Viceroy over him [1] (see also NPG 987), but, more immediately, the changes may relate to Chambers’s rapid social advancement. He had returned from Italy in 1755 already acclaimed as ‘a prodigy for Genius, for Sense & good taste’, [2] and within two years was appointed architectural tutor to the Prince of Wales, later George III, and was devising the exotic decoration of Kew for the Dowager Princess of Wales. In 1761 he was appointed, with Robert Adam, joint-architect to King George III.
NPG 27 is undocumented and is dated by the sitter’s apparent age; it evidently took some time to complete. [3]
Payments made in 1763 by Mrs Catherine Chambers for her portrait by Reynolds of c.1756 (Kenwood), [4] had previously been associated with NPG 27 (e.g. by Graves & Cronin).

Footnotesback to top

1) Joseph Farington, Diary, 10 December 1804 (and see 11 December).
2) By Robert Adam (cf. J. Ingamells, Dictionary of British and Irish travellers in Italy 1701-1800, compiled from the Brinsley Ford Archive, 1997, pp 194-95).
3) J. Harris & M. Snodin, eds., Sir WIlliam Chambers, 1996, p 1, suggested that NPG 27 may have coincided with Chambers’s appointment as Architect to the King.
4) M. Cormack, 'The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds', Wal. Soc., XLII, 1970, pp 113, 116; see D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, I, 2000, no.342 as c.1756.

Referenceback to top

Graves & Cronin 1899-1901
A. Graves & W. V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 4 vols., 1899-1901, I, p 163.

Harris 1970
J. Harris, Sir William Chambers, 1970, pp 15, 173.

Mannings 2000
D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2 vols., 2000, no. 344.

Physical descriptionback to top

Brown eyes, greyish hair, wearing a deep red coat and brown waistcoat; in the background two straight tree trunks, one broken.

Provenanceback to top

Given by the sitter’s son, George Chambers, to Mr West; Christie’s, 24 May 1845, lot 31, bought B. S. Smith;1 purchased from West’s widow, Mrs M. West, January 1858.2

1 Sent in by ‘West’ and presumably bought in; I am grateful to Margie Christian for her help in identifying this lot.
2 Mrs M. West of 8 Upper Berkeley Street, Hyde Park Square, London, wrote on 26 January 1858: ‘[the portrait] formerly belonged to Capt Chambers son of Sir William and was given by him to his friend Mr West my late Husband’ (NPG archive). George Chambers, who married Jane, daughter of Lord Rodney, became something of a vagabond according to Joseph Farington, Diary, 23 July 1817.

Exhibitionsback to top

Royal Dublin Society, 1861 (Portrait Gallery 488); Chambers, London, Stockholm, 1996-97 (3); Beningbrough 1979-.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

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