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William (Thomas) Beckford

47 of 1413 portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

William (Thomas) Beckford

by Sir Joshua Reynolds
1782
28 5/8 in. x 23 in. (727 mm x 584 mm)
NPG 5340


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This portraitback to top

Beckford was sitting to Reynolds in February and March 1782. He had attained his majority and succeeded to his vast wealth the previous September and he was to go to Italy for a second time in May, while the portrait was being exhibited at the Royal Academy. A contemporary review then found ‘nothing remarkable’ about it. [1] Beckford did not pay Reynolds the 50 gn. for his picture until 10 February 1785, [2] by which time scandal was changing his life dramatically; fifty years later he could describe the picture as ‘a distinguished work of Sir Joshua’s, painted in one of his happiest moments - moments I should never forget were I to live a thousand years’. [3] It was also in 1835 that Dean’s engraving of NPG 5340 was published showing a uniformly dark background, oddly appropriate for the outcast in Lansdowne House, but probably indicating that the sky was already overlaid with the ‘luminous ... golden brown’ otherwise first described in 1883, [4] which was not removed until 1981.
The background of NPG 5340 now seems to resemble a hot evening sky, curiously at odds with Beckford’s dark coat; Mannings observes that such a background ‘is most unusual’ in Reynolds’s work.

Footnotesback to top

1) St James’s Chronicle, quoted by A. Graves & W. V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 4 vols., 1899-1901, pp 74-75.
2) 50gn. then being Reynolds’s price for either a ‘Head’ (24½ x 18½ in.) or a ‘Three-quarters’ (30 x 25 in.), see M. Cormack, 'The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds', Wal. Soc., XLII, 1970, p 105. The sum Beckford paid in 1785 has previously been transcribed as £5 (M. Cormack, 'The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds', Wal. Soc., XLII, 1970, p 145) or £557 (A. Graves & W. V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 4 vols., 1899-1901, pp 74-75), but see D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2000.
3) To an unnamed correspondent, 19 July 1835, Beckford MSS; quoted by Boyd Alexander, 'Portraits of William Beckford', Register of the Museum of Art, University of Kansas, III, 8-9, 1967, p 9.
4) J. M. Gray, Notes on the Edinburgh Loan Exhibition of 1883, p 32.

Referenceback to top

Chapman 1930
G. Chapman and J. Hodgkin, Bibliography of W. Beckford, 1930, p 117, no.5.

Graves & Cronin 1899-1901
A. Graves & W. V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 4 vols., 1899-1901, pp 74-75.

Mannings 2000
D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2 vols., 2000, no.149.

Waterhouse 1941
E. K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, 1941, p 73.

Physical descriptionback to top

Grey eyes, light brown hair, wearing a black coat with white lace cravat; a bright red curtain top left, the background passing from a bright blue at the top, through warm umber to a hot orange.

Provenanceback to top

Bequeathed by the sitter to his daughter, Susannah, Duchess of Hamilton;1 by descent to the 13th Duke of Hamilton; Hamilton Palace sale, Christie’s, 6 November 1919, lot 52, bought Knoedler, from whom bought, 1920, by Mrs George Elkins, later Mrs S. P. Rotan (d. 1977), Philadelphia; Alexander Gallery, London, from whom purchased 1980.

1 On Beckford’s death the portrait was listed among his possessions as showing him ‘when about eighteen years of age’ (Boyd Alexander, 'Portraits of William Beckford', Register of the museum of Art, University of Kansas, 1967, pp 9, 13n30).

Exhibitionsback to top

RA 1782 (10); British Institution 1861 (174); Scottish NPG, 1883 (110); Reynolds, Grosvenor Gallery, 1883-84 (186); Royal House of Guelph, New Gallery, London, 1891 (115); Georgian Art, 25 Park Lane, London, 1931 (31); Travels in Italy, Manchester, 1988 (96); Von zauber des Rheins ergriffen, Bonn, 1992.

Reproductionsback to top

T. A. Dean 1835 (front. for Beckford's Alobaça and Batalha); F. Bromley 1862.


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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