Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Allen

The following text is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977 (now out of print). For the most up to date research on the Collection, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text. This can be accessed by following the link with each portrait’s title.

In consulting the following, please note that apart from the reformatting which allows the printed catalogue to be made available on-line the text is as published in 1977. Footnotes in the original edition are given within square brackets.

Contents Foreword Introduction Catalogue scope Abbreviations Arrangement of entries

Ralph Allen (1694-1763)

‘The Man of Bath'. Businessman and philanthropist; employed in the Bath post office; detected, 1715, a Jacobite plot thereby gaining the patronage of General Wade; improved and expanded the postal system from which he derived, with other enterprises, a considerable fortune; built Prior Park; a celebrated host, his friends included Pope, Pitt, Warburton and Fielding who immortalized him as Squire Allworthy in Tom Jones.

1580 Called Ralph Allen, by an unknown artist, c.1730
Oil on canvas, 17 1/4 x 13 1/2 in. (438 x 343 mm), dark brown eyes, long nose, white wig with tied end resting on his right shoulder; white neck-tie tucked into waistcoat buttonhole, long dark green coat with matching knee-length waistcoat and breeches, black stockings, buckled shoes; panelled walls, a carpet on the floor and a window, right, with light brown curtain drawn back.

Identification and former attribution to Johann Van Diest (c.1680-c.1760) derive from Alfred Jones, a dealer and collector of Bath who said that the window and window seat in the painting had been recognised as those of the drawing room in Allen's Bath house. Jones also believed that the portrait was painted about 1742 when the sitter became mayor. He ascribed the work to Van Diest, son of the Dutch landscape painter Adriaen Van Diest, on the grounds that portraits of Allen and other corporation members were presented by Field Marshal George Wade to the city in 1728, the year Van Diest was made honorary freeman by the council for having painted these portraits. [1] 1742, however, is late for the costume; about 1730 would be more appropriate, the looped wig-end and cravat tucked through the buttonhole being in high fashion around 1728. The features of NPG 1580 compare fairly well with authentic portraits but are not entirely conclusive. J. Nankivell equates the portrait with 'a Miniature Picture of Mr. Allen' offered to Bishop Hurd in 1798 by the Rev. M.S. Smith, husband of Allen's favourite niece, Gertrude Tucker. [2] The Bishop apparently declined the offer since he already had portraits by Hudson and Pond. The Hurd MS gives neither artist's name nor dimensions of the portrait. NPG 1580 is clearly not by Van Diest whose work survives in Bath.

Condition: varnish yellowed; discoloured repaints in the background; the edges of the face, bottom of the wig and black of the coat, now worn.

Collections: given 1910, by Alfred Jones; previous history unknown.

Literature: B. Boyce, The Benevolent Man. A Life of Ralph Allen of Bath, Cambridge, Mass., 1967.


‘... rather above the middle height, of stout build... very grave and well-looking... extremely plain in his costume, and remarkably courteous in his behaviour’. [3]


Collections are at Bath and, due to the sitter's friendship with Warburton and Hurd, in the episcopal library at Hartlebury Castle. Boyce's biography and Allen's Own Narrative, published by the Postal History Society, 1960, reproduce the main types.

A portrait, owned by the City of Bath was painted by Van Diest c.1728 and another, by Thomas Hudson, probably as early as 1740 according to an Allen family inventory. [4] The type was engraved by J. Faber junior [NPG D19992], 1754. Versions are in the collection of M.C. Allen, by descent from Ralph's brother Philip, at Hartlebury, bought by Hurd in 1786 from Edward, 2nd Earl Ligonier, [5] and in the City of Bath collection, from the Skrine family of Warleigh. A modern copy is owned by the GPO, London. In his last decade Allen seems to have sat to Arthur Pond, the date 1757 being associated with the portrait at Hartlebury stated to be by him, and formerly owned by Warburton's widow, another of Allen's nieces. [6] A version was purchased in 1950 for the Pump Room, Bath. The portrait at Exeter Hospital was painted by William Hoare although ascribed to Gandy c.1715. [7] Hoare was in Weymouth to draw Allen for the Hospital in 1758, [8] and may have drawn Mrs Allen at the same time. An unattributed portrait of the second Mrs Allen, collection M.C. Allen, could well be a pendant to Hoare's painting of her husband. A replica (?) of the Exeter Hospital portrait was bequeathed to the City of Bath by Captain M. Montagu, RN, in 1864, [9] and a drawing is in the British Museum. [10] Hoare also took and engraved a profile (O'D 1); a similar drawing was in the possession of Miss Allen, Bath, 1858. [11] J.D. Milner had seen an etching (?) lettered Sacred to the Memory of the late Ralph Allen of Prior Park, W. Hoare ft. Bath 1764, suggesting the use of the type for a memorial.

A wax profile is among works by the elder Isaac Gosset in the Hurd Library, [12] and two marble busts by Prince Hoare, brother of the artist, are in Bath. One commissioned by his friend Warburton when Allen retired as a governor in 1757, was presented to the Mineral Water Hospital, now the Royal National Hospital for Rheumatic Diseases, [13] while the other, provenance unknown, belongs to the city. [14] Allen is caricatured in The Knights of Baythe, or the One Headed Corporation , 1763. [15]

A portrait in the Royal National Hospital, formerly known as the novelist Henry Fielding, has of late been said to represent Allen himself. Fielding never sat, and the portrait, according to information received at the NPG in 1921, was apparently given to the hospital as Allen from the Prior Park sale of 1856. A comparison with authentic portraits is not conclusive but the portrait may well represent the sitter.


1. Letters dated 18, 26, 29 July and 6 August 1910, NPG archives; Boyce, pp.37-8.
2. Nankivell, p.18, note 1.
3. DNB, I, p.312.
4. Boyce, p.219, note 23.
5. Nankivell, pp.17-18.
6. Said to be of 1757, but not signed or dated: it is inscribed A. Pond pinx., Nankivell, p.18; the evidence is doubtless from Hurd MS IX, f. 36, to which he refers.
7. C.H. Collins Baker, Lely and the Stuart Portrait Painters, II, 1912, p.62.
8. Boyce, p.250 and note 32, letter of September that year to Hurd.
9. Farwell, pp.33-7, and reproduction.
10. Binyon, II, p.313.
11. SSB, LII, p.21.
12. Nankivell, p.18 and note 3.
13. Boyce, p.242, citing hospital minute and inscription on bust; also Gunnis, pp.176, 204.
14. Farwell, p.52.
15. Boyce, p.281 and pl.13.