Oliver Goldsmith

1 portrait on display in Room 12 at the National Portrait Gallery

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Oliver Goldsmith

studio of Sir Joshua Reynolds
circa 1770 or after
29 in. x 24 1/2 in. (737 mm x 622 mm)
NPG 130


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This portraitback to top

A contemporary studio copy of the Reynolds portrait at Knole which was exhibited at the RA in 1770 and first engraved by Giuseppe Marchi in 1770. [1] A replica by Reynolds, dated 1772, formerly at Woburn Abbey (and from the Piozzi sale 1816), is now in the National Gallery of Ireland (4600). [2] Reynolds ‘was intimately acquainted with Dr Goldsmith. They unbosomed their minds freely to each other, not only in regard to the characters of their friends, but what contributed to make men’s company desired or avoided’. [3] When Goldsmith died it was 'the severest blow Sir Joshua ever received - he did not paint all that day’, [4] and it was Reynolds who ‘fixed upon the place where Goldsmith’s monument now stands, over a door in the Poets’ Corner’ [5] in Westminster Abbey. Goldsmith, in turn, had dedicated to Reynolds his celebrated poem The Deserted Village in 1770.
Despite Goldsmith’s ‘dish-clout’ face, [6] his portrait was much admired. ‘I have seen nothing on canvas more touching’, wrote Leslie, for whom it recalled ‘all that is known of the sufferings of the tenderest and warmest of hearts’; [7] Frances Reynolds considered it ‘a very great likeness ... the most flattered picture she ever knew her brother to have painted’; [8] Catherine Horneck thought it conveyed ‘a good idea of his face; it was painted as a fine poetical head for the admiration of posterity, but as it is divested of his wig and with the shirt collar open, it was not the man as seen in daily life’. [9] But when at home Goldsmith ‘usually wore his shirt collar open’ and he is shown as a writer; Hilles stressed how Reynolds painted Goldsmith as ‘essentially a simple person, unpretentious and unaffected’. [10]
NPG 130 was described by Prior in 1837 as a ‘copy’, ‘very indifferently executed’, but in 1861 he told Scharf ‘it was then, as it appears now, impaired by time and neglect and shewed disadvantageously’; [11] the folds of the cloak appear more strongly lit than in the original at Knole or the replica in Dublin. Other copies include those with Trinity College, Dublin; [12] the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland, Dublin; Sir Torquil Munro sale, Christie’s, 25 September 1942, lot 65; Stirling of Keir sale, Christie’s, 22-24 May 1995, lot 480 (head only, inscribed Northcote), and see NPG 828. In 1837 Prior listed additionally versions in a private collection in Salisbury (from the collection of Archdeacon Coxe) and with a Mr Bacon of the Middle Temple, London. [13] Northcote repeated the composition in his portrait of Joshua Hunt of 1776. [14]

Footnotesback to top

1) D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, I, 2000, no.736.
2) Ibid., no.737.
3) F. W. Hilles, Portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1952, p 26.
4) Conversations of Northcote, ed. W. Hazlitt, 1949, p 112.
5) J. Northcote, The Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1819, I, p 326.
6) So described by Garrick (J. Northcote, The Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1819, I, p 234)
7) C. R. Leslie & T. Taylor, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1865, I, p 360.
8) Quoted N. Penny & D. Mannings, Joshua Reynolds, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, 1986, p 247.
9) J. Prior, Goldsmith, 1837, II, p 380. He later told Scharf these comments came from ‘a long conversation of 1833 or 1834’ (letter of 3 May 1861; NPG archive).
10) F. W. Hilles, Portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1952, p 26. Reynolds 1986, p 248.
11) Letter of 3 May 1861 (NPG archive).
12) Illus. A. Crookshank & D. Webb, Paintings and Sculptures in Trinity College Dublin, 1990, p 154.
13) J. Prior, Life of Goldsmith, 1837, II, p 536.
14) Illus. Burl. Mag., CXXXVI, 1994, p 235.

Referenceback to top

Graves & Cronin 1899-1901
A. Graves & W. V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, I, p 369.

Mannings 2000
D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, I, 2000, no.737b.

Physical descriptionback to top

Brown eyes, mousy hair, deep purple fur-collared cape, black jacket.

Provenanceback to top

By descent from the sitter to his brother-in-law, Daniel Hodson of Lishoy; his daughter, Mrs Neligan; her son, Dr William Hodson Neligan (d. 1859) of Athlone,1 by whose three executors offered for sale, Dublin, 1861; purchased through Robert H. Boyce 1861.2

1 In whose collection mentioned by Prior in 1837 (Life of Goldsmith, II, p 536) and Maria Edgeworth in 1842 (letter of 18 June 1842 to W. H. Neligan; copy NPG archive).
2 Provenance as given by Robert H. Boyce in letters (addressed from Pembroke Dock) to Scharf (NPG archive): he brought the sale to Scharf’s attention ‘having become possessed by marriage of a share in [the picture] and [as] requested by the other claimants’ (26 January 1861); ‘I have only a third share in the picture. My wife’s father died intestate & his widow (a second wife) admitted all the property has been sold except the above portrait, it was placed for auction lately in Dublin but withdrawn on the representation of my brother in law’ (1 March 1861). The executors had asked £1,000 before finally accepting £150.

Exhibitionsback to top

National Gallery of Ireland 1897-1916; The Georgian Playhouse, Actors, Artists, Audiences and Architecture 1730-1830, Arts Council, 1975 (92).


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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