Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Scope
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.
Dealing with sitters in the collection whose main activity was in the reigns of George I and II Early Georgian Portraits is the first of three titles forming the 18th and early 19th century volumes of the Gallery's catalogue raisonné. A second, Mid-Georgian Portraits, will cover the first thirty years of the reign of George III to the outbreak of war with France and the death of Reynolds. A third will continue to 1830.
The catalogue is intended as a source-book of authentic portraits of those represented in the National Portrait Gallery for the period 1714-60; in each entry, the Gallery's holdings are followed by an account of portraits of the sitter elsewhere. The portraits included fall into two main categories: those for which there is reliable evidence, and those whose identity rests only on comparison with authentic portraits. Portraits of unreliable or of unknown credentials are mentioned only if they have gained widespread currency.
To the art-historian, alertness to questions of attribution will have become a second nature. A parallel consideration besets the student of the portrait. For a variety of reasons, not least sheer lack of record, or perhaps optimism on the part of collectors or dealers, a portrait may in the course of time lose its true identity. But there are, as the reader will discover, a number of criteria. Costume will often yield a date to a generation, or even a decade. A picture may have a contemporary inscription, giving the sitter's name, or arms: the artist may have signed and perhaps dated it; in the rare case of Sackville, Romney's bill has descended with the painting. Perhaps the portrait was engraved. There may be a provenance, possibly confirmed by inventory or will. The portrait may depict attributes, insignia, uniform, robes, which can be verified; it may contain associated objects, a book or building as in Burlington NPG 4818. The permutations are many, but so are the hazards, and vigilance is essential.
'Called' before the name of a sitter and 'ascribed to' before that of an artist, convey the compiler's reservations, whereas 'attributed to' implies his acceptance of an artist's authorship on grounds of style.
'Type' is used of a distinct design or image of which, especially with sitters in demand, there may well be several examples or versions. In an elaborate case, a single type might thus include a number of the following: ad vivum (life) sketch(es) of the head, composition or pose drawing(s), finished oil, replica, studio repetition(s), copy or copies by other, sometimes later, hands; not to mention differences in media, scale, the extent of the figure shown and minor variations in pose and dress. Thus of Kneller's two types of George I, c.1714 (q.v. below), the profile is comparatively rare in oil, though engraved, and stated to have been painted for the coinage: while the three-quarter face standing whole length in robes of state was the standard portrait of the new Hanoverian king and much in demand for official use. Numerous painted examples exist, from whole length to head and shoulders. There is also a seated variant in Garter robes. The type was also frequently engraved, sometimes with adaptations, such as the transposition of the insignia, to suit the format.
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