NPG 98 (2a)

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Account, dated 31 October 1938, of how the portrait of William Herschel, then identified only as a 'Portrait of a Gentleman', was discovered by the art dealer Robert Walker.


Concerning Abbott's portrait of William Herschel
Now in the National Portrait Gallery

From Joliffe Walker, of Bossolla Mill, Kenwyn, Truro
To John C.W. Herschel 31 October 1938

...I send you a copy of a letter sent to me by my father, who, as a boy, was living at home when the incident occurred.
The letter was written some years before my father died, and in it he wrote the following:-
"It might be interesting to those who study astronomy to know how that very fine portrait of Sir William Herschel, which now hangs in the National Portrait Gallery was discovered.
"My father, Mr Robert Walker, happened to be passing a house in Pultney Street, Bath, where there was a sale of furniture taking place; and just as he entered a picture was being offered by the auctioneer, catalogued "A portrait of a gentleman", which my father bought.
"He showed it to several good judges of pictures, who all pronounced it to be a splendidly painted head; but they said it was a pity it could not be identified.
"On the third night after it was bought my father had a startling dream. He told me that a man, resembling the picture, approached his bedside and said, "You seem anxious to know who your picture represents; so I will give you my name, which is Herschel". My father immediately awoke, jumped out of bed, and wrote letters to Messrs, Colnaghi and three other printsellers, asking them if they had an engraving of Sir William Herschel.
"A week later my father received one taken from his picture, with Herschel's name on the plate. The portrait was painted by Lemuel Abbott.
signed J. Hanson Walker.

The engraving - which I now possess - has the following inscription: -