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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Richardson the elder

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

Jonathan Richardson the elder (1665-1745)

Portrait painter and connoisseur; pupil of John Riley and a successor of Sir G. Kneller; Theory of Painting,published 1715, influenced Reynolds as a young man; An Essay on . . . Criticism as it relates to Painting appeared 1719, and, 1722, An Account of . . . Statues, Bas-Reliefs, Drawings and Pictures in Italy written in collaboration with his son Jonathan (1694-1771) who also painted a little; some of his notable old master drawings which passed to Sir Thomas Lawrence were acquired for the Ashmolean, 1845.

706 Self-portrait, 1729
Oil on canvas, 29 x 24 ¾ in. (737 x 629 mm); dark blue eyes, heavy medium-brown eyebrows, strong cheek colour, two warts (?) below lower lip; black velvet cap, white neck-cloth and neck-tie, black coat; plain background.

The date, bottom right, visible in strong raking light, reads: 29 July 1729 / 22 Jan. / Feb 27 (or 17).

Scharf claimed that NPG 706 was signed and on comparison with the self-portrait with own hair etched in 1738 (O'D 1) he dated it to that year. [1] The etching, however, relates more convincingly to a small-scale oil, not known to Scharf, in the Lindsay collection, Colstoun. Like the companion portrait of Pope painted in 1742 (seeAlexander Pope, Iconography) it is a late type and was still at Dalhousie Castle in 1861. A red chalk head formerly attributed to Arthur Pond, British Museum (ECM 9), [2] is similar in pose to NPG 706 although the sitter looks younger. The black chalk drawing (ECM 2) dated by the artist 13 July 1728 also has affinities with this portrait. The drawings bear the JR stamp [3] of the sitter's collection but neither is likely to be a study for NPG 706.

Condition:painted on coarse twill canvas; two old stoppings, background right; cleaned and polished, 1883 and 1895.

Collections:bought, 1883, from Graves, previous history unknown; possibly one of the heads noted by Vertue in 1751 'at MR JonathN Richardson son of the painter. several pictures and paintings of the familys pictures—of himself the old man a painter. one excellent one a half length Genteel. Gentleman-like natural action and habit—several other heads of himself . . .'. [4] NPG 706 is also consistent with an item in the son's sale, Langford's, 18 February 1772, lot 77: 'Richardson sen. —His own portrait 3 qrs.'. Lot 45 was also a self-portrait. Lot 77 is the only one described as three-quarters (i.e. on a three-quarters canvas, approximately 30 x 25 in.).

1831 Self-portrait, 1730
Pencil on vellum, 6 1/8 x 5 in. (156 x 128 mm), laid down on a card mount; wig with looped ends, neck-band, coat.

Dated in the artist's hand, bottom right: 5 Dec. 1730.

The pose is near the oil in hat at Polesden Lacy acquired 1913. A similar drawing in reverse stated to have come from the eminent virtuoso John Barnard (d.1784) [5] was with Paul Grinke in 1969. Another in black chalk and life-size, also in reverse, British Museum (ECM 8), is inscribed erroneously Sir James Thornhill in a later hand.

Condition:the pencil now faded.

Collections:presented, 1918, by Richard Budgett.

1693 Self-portrait
Black and red chalk heightened with white on blue paper, 5 5/8 x 10 1/8 in. (398 x 258 mm); velvet cap over his right ear, neck-band indicated. JR stamp, bottom right.

The sitter's appearance suggests a date in the early 1730s. A reversed offset drawing of the same size is in the British Museum (ECM 4).

Condition:slightly rubbed and faded, some foxing.

Collections:bought, 1913, from Leggatt's who had earlier believed it to be Sir W. Wyndham; from the artist's collection, as stamped, and probably one of the 102 drawings of himself and his son sold in ten lots in the latter's sale, 5 February 1772 and days following; [6]intervening history not known.

Exhibited: 'British Self Portraits', Arts Council, 1962 (12).

3779 Self-portrait, 1735
Black chalk heightened with white on blue paper, 12 7/8 x 10 ½ in. (328 x 261 mm), similar to NPG 1693; hair sparse, wrinkled neck, aged appearance.

Inscribed in ink along the top: Mr Jonathan Richardson engraver. (an original);in pencil under the modern mount, bottom left, by himself 3/6 and in the artist's hand, bottom right Oct 1735 (last figure very faint), the mark JR above.

The pose is close to the drawing in a cap dated 12 Jan 1732/3, British Museum (ECM 3).

Condition: rubbed; a crease across the paper about one inch from bottom; slight foxing.

Collections:found, 1950, in a parcel of engravings, collection of William Fleming (1779-1880) of Lowton Grange, Cheshire, bequeathed to the NPG; earlier history as for NPG 1693.

3023 Self-portrait, 1736
Pen and pencil on white paper, 6 3/8 x 4 ½ in. (160 x 115 mm), laid down on card; velvet cap to tip of his right ear, shoulders lightly indicated

Inscribed along the bottom in ink in an old hand: Richardson. drawn by himself, and in his own hand, right, 15 Jan 1735/6,a cipher in pencil 9P 7 G(?) above; the artist's stamp JR, left corner, now very faint.

Condition:the paper is rather dirty; a stain, top left corner and a tear, inwards from lobe of his right ear; pencil passages now rubbed.

Collections:presented, 1939, with a number of other drawings by M.H. Spielman; earlier history presumably as for NPG 1693 and 3779.

Literature: F. Lugt, Les Marques de Collections,1921-56; J.F. Kerslake, 'The Richardsons and the Cult of Milton', Burlington Magazine, CXIX, 1957; W.K. Wimsatt, The Portraits of Alexander Pope,1965; D.T. Piper, 'The Development of the British Literary Portrait up to Samuel Johnson', Proceedings British Academy,LIV, 1968; R.R.Wark, Early British Drawings in the Huntington Collection 1600-1750,The Huntington Library, 1969; E. Croft Murray and others, Catalogue of British Drawings [in the British Museum], II (in preparation).


Richardson's appearance is known only from self-portraits and although it may never be possible to re-construct an exact sequence, a sufficient number of dated or datable examples survive to establish a reasonable chronology especially after the later 'twenties when they become more numerous. In some instances he looks younger than the given date might suggest, indicating that he may have sometimes worked, or at least dated, retrospectively

The earliest drawing, inscribed on the verso in his own hand Painted abt. May 1692 / 31 Jan 1734/5 (ECM27), is perhaps from a lost oil. [7] A youthful looking drawing in the Huntington Library and Art Gallery [8] is dated 1707 and a similar painting, with the Vose Galleries, Boston, in 1936, is inscribed AEtat 50 / 1717. In1723, under 'Names of living painters of Note in London & their pictures by whom painted' Vertue noted 'Mr. Richardson by himself in a Wigg in poses. Mr Wright. another in a Cap sent to Holland. another since done. & others'. [9] Mr Wright, who remains untraced, is unlikely to be the painter J.M. Wright (d.1700) suggested by Vertue's editors. [10] With the possible exception of NPG 706 the oils mentioned are not identifiable; the wig in the painting at Polesden Lacy is of c.1728and thus too late.

Besides life-size drawings in chalk of which NPG 1693 and 3779 are typical, and small highly finished drawings in pencil on vellum such as NPG 1831, a number of portraits survive, particularly from after c.1728. Most are drawings, often dated. Now widely scattered, examples are in the Fitzwilliam Museum, the Ashmolean, Bodleian and in various other public and private collections. The eighteen drawings owned by the British Museum include engravings and drawings from Strawberry Hill, second Strawberry Hill sale, Robins, 13 June 1842 and days following, nos. 77-86 of lot 1266, 'Ten masterly sketches in black and red chalk of his own Portrait, taken at intervals between 1728 and 1741'. Examples on vellum (ECM 27-31) were also acquired from the sale. The black chalk drawing (ECM 11), doubtless no.86 on which Walpole (who was not infallible) wrote ?/iff Richardson junr., is apparently the last. It is dated by the artist 29 Jan. 1741. Vertue, in 1751, refers to portraits of the sitter seen in the son's house (seeNPG 706, Collections, above) at whose sale Walpole noted ‘. . . hundreds of portraits of both in chalks by the father, with the dates when executed; for after his retirement from business the good old man seems to have amused himself with writing a short poem and drawing his own or his son's portrait every day'. [11]

Some confusion of identity has arisen. The self-portrait in the Lindsay collection (seeNPG 706 above) was at one time known as Matthew Prior while others have been mistaken for the son or for John Gay. The profile oil from Viscount Clifden's collection, lent to the 'NPE' 1867 (177) as Gay and so engraved, 1820, by M. Gauci, was acquired by the Walker Art Gallery as a self-portrait but is in fact the son. Characteristics distinguishing the two Richardsons may be seen in the oil with the bust of Milton in the Bromley Davenport collection [12] and the important drawing in red chalk from the Lucas collection, Wrest Park, at Sotheby's, 19 May 1954, lot 59: the elder Richardson has a peculiar double wart below the lower lip, most clearly visible in NPG 706, while the son may be distinguished by the cleft chin.


1. Scharf, p.377.
2. E. Croft-Murray's Catalogue of British Drawings (vol II), MS kindly made available by the author; cited here as ECM.
3. Lugt 2184; Wimsatt, pp.151-52.
4. Vertue, III, p.159.
5. Wimsatt, p.152.
6. Wimsatt, pp.548-49. Not in Lugt's copy of the sale catalogue, BM, Department of Prints and Drawings.
7. Too much should not be read into the word ‘Painted'.
8. Wark, p.40B.
9. Vertue, III, p.12.
10. Ibid, Index to vols I-V, p.295.
11. Anecdotes, II, p.661.
12. Kerslake, reproduced p.24, pl.27.


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