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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Introduction

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


A note on the relation of the Gallery's collection to British portraiture 1714-60 [1]

Collecting is the art of the possible. To this rule the National Portrait Gallery in our period is no exception: strong in statesmen, men of action and the arts, including a fine series of self-portraits, but not as rich in their own sphere as, for example, the Royal collection, the Royal Society, Lambeth Palace, the National Maritime Museum or the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. Some celebrities never sat; portraits of others have disappeared; yet others remain in the collections for which they were painted, and have not become available.

The present coverage in the Gallery is necessarily uneven, in terms of both sitter and artistic quality. Handel had been in this country some sixteen years before Denner painted him (NPG 1976); no earlier portrait is now known. Kneller's oil of Halley is lost; our painting (NPG 4393) of the great astronomer is by the obscure and uninformative R. Phillips. Wolfe became famous only in death: the bust by Wilton, the finest portrait (c.f. NPG 4415), is not only posthumous, but, strictly speaking, Lord Gower's servant, from whom it was taken. There are fine portraits of wealthy members of the established church, and Herring sat to Hogarth and to Hudson: but the Romney, the only surviving painting of Wesley by a major artist, is in Philadelphia, and ours (NPG 2366) is an early copy. Both the period and the Gallery are rich in literary portraits, especially of Pope, though, as in the case of Handel, we lack a major bust. With the four founders of the English novel the situation is mixed. Fielding never sat. [2] Of Smollett, there remains only a telling oil, by an unknown hand, probably Italian (NPG 1110), and a newly discovered miniature. Richardson was more fortunate in his friendship with Highmore, one of the most attractive painters of the mid-century (Stationers Company and NPG 1036). [3] But only the genius of Sterne was matched by that of his artists, Reynolds and Nollekens (NPG 5019 and NPG 1891).

Few would dispute that, after the death of Kneller in 1723, native portrait painting was at a very low ebb, or that by 1760 it was on the verge of its golden age. The collection is not altogether typical of women's portraiture in the period, comparatively few being of quite sufficient fame for admission. This apart, a sample of the quality of the work in the Gallery shows it fairly representative of the peaks, and depressions, of this fitful advance. Most of our Knellers and our best Dahl, the early self-portrait, fall within the previous volume, but in this is a rare profile of George I (NPG 4223). Neither of the Dahls is of high quality: no significantly better version of the mediocre Pope (NPG 4132) is known, while the Sir William Watkins Wynn (NPG 2164) is a copy of the original still in the family. Jervas, Kneller's pupil, may well have won his reputation with a work like the whole length Pope (NPG 1179), attractive in colour and only a little gauche; but his more usual awkwardness is evident in our Queen Caroline (NPG 369).

Of the foreign visitors, Vanloo is better represented elsewhere: our studio version of his Sir Robert Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (NPG 70) is mechanical by comparison with the 2nd Duke of Grafton (q.v.) at Euston. Though damaged by over-cleaning, it is still possible to see how the Venetian colour and suave design of Amiconi's Queen Caroline (NPG 4332) would have appealed to a former patron of Jervas. Mercier's middle period is seen in the Frederick Prince of Wales (NPG 2501); also in the 'Music Party' (Frederick Prince of Wales with his sisters, NPG 1556), but some of his best portraits remain in private hands, especially the Handel, which evokes the very act of composition.

Most of the work of Hogarth, the most inventive artist of the period, is to be found in other collections. We have the early 'Committy of the house of Commons' (The Gaols Committee, NPG 926), surely correctly attributed, and the self-portrait with the muse of comedy (NPG 289). Hudson, later supplanted by Ramsay as the leading society painter, is typically, if thinly, represented by Pepusch (NPG 2063), Mrs Cibber (NPG 4526) and the important late Handel (NPG 3970). Two outstanding works by Ramsay are the self-portrait, c.1739 (NPG 3311) and the sensitive Robert Wood (NPG 4865), painted in Rome in 1755, but we lack anything as beautiful as his Elizabeth Montagu. [5]

Gainsborough's Ipswich period is well covered – the Kirbys (NPG 1421), Joseph Gibbs (NPG 2179) and Vernon (NPG 881), but his mature work and most of our Reynolds, including the early self-portrait (NPG 41), are of sitters who flourished later than 1760.

Comparatively few drawings are known and few are in the Gallery; we have three life-size chalk self-portraits, two by Richardson (NPG 682 and 683), and the fine late Ramsay, drawn in Ischia (NPG 1660). Hoare's life-size head of Pope (NPG 647) and the smaller scale Daniel Gardner of Halifax with his secretaries (NPG 3328) reflect something of the rising vogue for pastel and, later, gouache. The quality of Pope, though less monotonous than the oils of Chatham (NPG 1050) and Pelham (NPG 221) produced in his studio, is below Hoare's best work; the Daniel Gardner, if correctly attributed, lacks the panache of later and better preserved examples. Kneller probably painted both directly and indirectly, out-lining Shannon's head (NPG 3235) [6] on the canvas, but taking a preliminary chalk drawing of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. [7] It seems unlikely that later artists would have invariably painted direct, and more sketches, preliminary and studio drawings will perhaps emerge. At present, the bulk of the surviving studio repertoire centres on Hoare (British Museum) [8] and Ramsay (National Gallery of Scotland). [9] Continuity with the late 17th century taste for small-scale drawing in pencil on vellum is exemplified by the G. White, allegedly of Somerville (NPG 1873). Richardson also worked on this scale, but, like our self-portrait (NPG 1831), most of his sitters are from a close circle of friends. Little of this art survives, and it perhaps yielded to the miniature, whose colour glowed in the enamels of Zincke, so admired by George II and his Queen. There are no examples of his work in the NPG, but we have a fine self-portrait by the other major miniaturist of the period, the younger Bernard Lens (NPG 1624) (though he was not an enamelist).

Frequent reference will be found in the text to engraving, but mainly in the role of authentication. [10] The development of the mezzotint and the spread of engraving in small format – in book and magazine illustration and, in loose sheet – is one of the features of the period. From the point of view of the Gallery's collection, though invaluable as a record, engravings, unless taken from life, are secondary to the originals of which they are copies, and seldom acquired.

The situation with caricature is similar. The war of images which accompanied the war of words in politics and society was waged with engravings, very fully represented and catalogued in the British Museum. [11] Save for an album of drawings by George Townshend, [12] whose bite was doubtless sharpened by a personal acquaintance with the subjects denied to Grubb Street, our holdings are minimal. The drawing of Jack Sheppard in his cell (NPG 4313), is not the first version, and our oil of Lovat (NPG 216) is a remote copy of the powerful, newly discovered Hogarth drawing at Preston. Neither display the power of the personal caricature to advantage. Better examples would be the charm of the nodding Stukeley (NPG 4266) or the humour of Worlidge's ferocious etching of Warburton (q.v.), but our little red chalk drawing of Pope (NPG 873), probably Hoare's much imitated original surreptitiously sketched at Prior Park, intimates mightiness of spirit in a pathetic human frame.

Again, derivative in the chain of likeness and calling for specialist expertise more readily available elsewhere, the applied arts hardly impinge on the collection. There is, however, a medal of Maria Clementina Sobieska (NPG 1686) and an ivory of Susannah Cibber (NPG 1984), but in this period nothing by the best ivory sculptor, Le Marchand, [13] who often worked ad vivum and no waxes, though Gossett, for example, modelled a number of our sitters.

Three aspects of the period are, however, well represented: the introduction of the conversation-piece, the rise of the portrait bust and the emergence of the sitter's personality. More easily recognised than defined, the conversation-piece added a new dimension enabling the painter to put his, usually small-scale, figures in a setting indicating their rank or occupation. Without anything of the calibre of Hogarth's Conquest of Mexico, [14] or, if we include the sporting-piece, Wootton's Death of the Stag, [15] the Gallery is nevertheless fortunate to possess Gawen Hamilton's classic 'Conversation of Virtuosis' (NPG 1384); two Haymans, the self-portrait with a Patron (NPG 217) and Greene and Hoadly (NPG 2106), not to mention the very early Hogarth 'Committy of the house of Commons' and a good version of Mercier's Frederick Prince of Wales and his sisters.

The Gallery has some outstanding busts by the immigrants whose work enlivened the earlier years of the period, and by the native artists who succeeded them: no Scheemakers, but a fine Rysbrack of Sir Robert Walpole, 1st Earl of Orford (NPG 2126), a splendid marble of Roubiliac, here attributed to Joseph Wilton (NPG 2145) and a good version of the Sterne (NPG 1891) of which Nollekens remained proud throughout a long life. The most expressive sculptor was, however, Roubiliac. His unforgettable bust of Hogarth (NPG 121), half pugnacious, half sad, set a new standard in characterisation, just as surely as Hogarth's often cited Coram (q.v. Thomas Coram Foundation) half shattered the mask of convention by introducing the sitter's bluff, homely features into a portrait conceived in the full baroque manner. [16] The ripples of this innovation touched the last stronghold, the royal image, just after the close of our period. Cotes' mildly domestic pastel of Queen Charlotte lifting her finger for silence as she nurses the sleeping Princess Royal, was painted and exhibited in 1767, [17] but in its closing year Reynolds had already brought to the informal portrait an expressiveness seldom seen in British painting. The Gallery's Sterne (NPG 5019) is a splendid example. At first sight, firmly within the tradition of the literary portrait, and, in the clerical dress and manuscript of Tristram Shandy even reminiscent of the mediaeval depiction of a subject's status by attributes, the portrait is deeply and subtly unconventional. There is surely deliberate irony in the attributes, an antithesis between the quality of the writings and the sitter's cloth. But the overwhelming impact is the bright wit of the face, the personality depicted. Reynolds has nearly reached those candid smaller canvases of his intimates, Boswell and the Thrale circle, where the man might be exposed to a degree that made Johnson squirm: 'He may paint himself as deaf if he chuses . . . ; but I will not be blinking Sam.' [18] It is one of the moments in British art when one sees the sitter face to face.


1. This is in no way intended as a history of British portraiture in the period, but merely to convey some overall impression of the present state of the NPG collection. Detailed information will be found in the individual entries, to which, reference should be made under the sitters here named.

2. For portrait-painting, the best general survey is still in E.K. Waterhouse, Painting in England, 1530-1790, 1969, and for sculpture, M. Whinney, Sculpture in Britain, 1530-1830, 1964. A useful guide to the interplay of artist, sitter and taste will be found in David Piper, The English Face, 1957.

3. Hogarth's drawing, known from Basire's engraving, is perhaps from memory, or of Garrick, impersonating Fielding. R. Paulson, Hogarth: His Life, Art and Times, 1971, II, pp.342-3.

4. Not to mention his paintings of scenes from Pamela; now in the Tate, the Fitzwilliam Museum, and the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.

5. A. Smart, The Life and Art of Allan Ramsay, 1952, pl. xviii(b).

6. D.T. Piper, Catalogue of Seventeenth-Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, 1625-1714, 1963, p.314.

7. G. Sherburn, The Correspondence of Alexander Pope, 1956, II, pp.21-2.

8. On whom, as for Richardson, see the forthcoming catalogue of 18th-century drawings in the British Museum by Mr Croft-Murray.

9. See K. Andrews and J.R. Brotchie, National Gallery of Scotland... Catalogue of Scottish Drawings, 1960, pp.171-81.

10. Save for the nineteenth century, where they are sometimes fuller, the engravings in the NPG archive largely duplicate the holdings of the BM catalogued by O'Donoghue and are usually working, not fine, impressions.

11. Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires... in the British Museum, compiled by F.G. Stephens, D.M. George and others, 1873-1954.

12. E. Harris, The Townshend Album, NPG, 1974.

13. For his fine ivory of Sir Christopher Wren (NPG 4500), acquired after the publication of the 17th-century catalogue, see NPG Annual Report 1966-67, pp.32-3 and plate opposite p.34.

14. Recently cleaned, when exh. 'Hogarth', Tate Gallery, 1971 (41).

15. Oliver Millar, The Tudor Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures in the collection of Her Majesty The Queen, 1963 (545), pl.203.

16. B. Nicolson, The Treasures of the Foundling Hospital, pp.1, 9, sees it as occupying an intermediate position in the progress towards realism.

17. Oliver Millar, The Later Georgian Pictures in the collection of Her Majesty The Queen, 1969 (717). For the whole-length oil see (718), pl.15.

18. H.L. Piozzi, Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson, LL.D., 1786, p.248, cited L.F. Powell, Boswell's Life of Johnson, III, 1934, p.273, note 1. The self-portrait and the Johnson from Thrale's collection are in the Tate Gallery, the latter on loan to the NPG. 'Blinking Sam' is presumably the Reynolds' in the collection of Courage, Barclay & Simmonds Ltd.

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