Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Baskerville

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

John Baskerville (1706-75)

Printer and type-designer; born at Upton, Worcestershire; set up as writing-master and later, in Birmingham, as japanner; about 1750, on the advice of his friend Shenstone, printed Virgil, first of his famous quarto editions of the classics and, as printer to Cambridge University, 1758-68, his celebrated English Bible, 1763; his type, purchased by Beaumarchais in 1779, presented to Cambridge University Press, 1952.

1394 After a painting by James Milllar of 1774
Oil on canvas, 28 3/4 x 23½ in. (731 x 597 mm), pale blue eyes, protruding lower lip, double chin, fresh complexion, short grey wig with two rows of curls; plain white neck-cloth and wrist ruffles, dark brown collarless velvet coat, unbuttoned, edged with lighter brown; his hands, right over left, rest on the head of a black stick; red velvet chair; dark greyish-brown background lit from top left.

NPG 1394 is a version of the one known portrait of Baskerville by James Millar of Birmingham (fl.1771-90), and although no references are known in the sitter's lifetime, the pedigree of the original can be traced to his family. The type was engraved as Baskerville by Rothwell, probably T. Rothwell of Birmingham (d.1807), and is one of four known versions.

The first is the Millar portrait signed and dated 1774 presented, 1940, to Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery [1] by the Rev. A.H. Caldicott, a descendant of Knott's successor on the Birmingham Gazette. It had been bought by Knott at the sale of the sitter's step­daughter Mrs Ruston some time before 1825. [2] A copy by Raven, engraved by Lee and Craig for Hansard, c.1825, [3] is possibly the signed miniature by Samuel Raven (1775-1847) on the lid of a japanned papier-maché box transferred from the Midland Institute to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery c.1958 [4]. The box itself is known as the work of Henry Clay (d.1812). A further copy 'passed into the possession of Mr Joseph Parkes', [5] formerly of Birmingham, some years before 1861 [6] but is not mentioned in the sale of his pictures, Christie's, 8 May 1858. It may be either NPG 1394 or the copy that appeared at Christie's, 30 July 1965, lot 338, as Garrick by Gainsborough. The last version, clearly a copy when compared with the Ruston portrait of 1744, belonged to the publishers Longman's by 1852 [7] when ascribed to Gainsborough or 'Exteth, pupil of Hogarth'. [8] In 1855 it was in the care of Bennet Woodcroft, clerk to the commissioners of patents, and transferred from the Patent Office to the Science Museum in 1883.

R. Straus, after seeing the Ruston portrait, suggested that NPG 1394 was possibly a copy by Raven [9] but this artist is not known to have painted life size.

Condition: considerable retouchings in the face, especially on the right of his chin.

Collections: bought, 1905, from W. Gilbert of London; previous history unknown but possibly the copy once owned by Joseph Parkes.

Engraved: by Rothwell, without sitter's name; the plate for the engraving was apparently 'bought at Richardson's in London in 1813'. [10]

Literature: T.C. Hansard, Typographia, 1825; R. Straus and R.K. Dent, John Baskerville, 1907; W. Bennett, John Baskerville, 1939; Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, Catalogue of Paintings, 1960.


An account, based on personal knowledge, is given by Mark Noble: `In person he was a shrivelled old coxcomb. His favourite dress was green, edged with narrow gold lace, a scarlet waistcoat, with a very broad gold lace; and a small round hat, likewise edged with gold lace'. [11]


A list of portraits appears in Straus and Dent. It is not always accurate, the Ruston portrait for example, and not Raven's copy, being given as the source of the engraving by Lee and Craig. [12] Apart from the Millar which is believed to be the only surviving type, there is a portrait said to be signed Alex 1753 [13]which belonged to Major Campbell of Berry Hall, Solihull, who bought it from the estate of G. Booth of Olton. According to Bennett, nothing is known either of its authenticity or its painter. A bust is lost, Baskerville and his wife having sat in 1764 to an unidentified bust-maker from Stratford-on-Avon. [14]


1. Catalogue of Paintings, p.102; exh. 'Bicentenary of the Lunar Society', Birmingham, 1966 (4).
2. Hansard, pp.xii-xiii.
3. Hansard, reproduced opposite p.310.
4. 'John Baskerville, Printer', Birmingham University Library, 1955 (35).
5. Probably John Parkes, advocate of radical reform (1796-1865).
6. Notes and Queries, 2nd series, XII, 1861, p.304.
7. Ibid, 1st series, V, 1852, p.355.
8. Ibid, 2nd series, III, 1857, p.19.
9. Letter to Milner, 24 February 1907, NPG archives.
10. Notes and Queries, 2nd series, XII, p.304.
11. Biographical History of England . . . a continuation of Granger's works, II, 1806, p.362.
12. Hansard, pp.xii-xiii.
13. Straus and Dent, p.139; Bennett, II, p.119 gives the date 1751.14. Mentioned by Shenstone, letter to Lady Luxborough, quoted Bennett, II, p.119.