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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue: Somerville

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

William Somerville (1675-1742)

Poet; of an old Gloucestershire family, educated at Winchester College and New College, Oxford, of which he became a fellow; admitted as a student at the Middle Temple, 1696; settled, 1705, after his father's death, in Edstone where he led the life of a country gentleman devoting his leisure to field sports and literature; The Two Springs,a fable, published 1725; The Chace (Chase), his celebrated work, appeared 1735, Hobbinol,a mock heroic account of rural games in Gloucestershire, in 1740, and Field Sports,on hawking, 1742.

1873Called,by George White, 1709
Pencil on vellum, 4 3/8 x 3 3/8 in. (111 x 86 mm) oval; eyebrows slightly arched, strong curved nose, thin upper lip, cleft chin, wig centre-parted falling to below shoulders and down back; cravat with fringe, coat with three clasps, the top two unfastened; lit from the left, background lighter on the right.

Signed: G White fec: / 1709.

The sitter looks rather young for 1709 and comparison with authentic likenesses is not convincing. Somerville is usually portrayed with sharply defined eyebrows, pouches under the eyes, a much finer nose and no cleft to his chin. The grounds for the old identification are not apparent. George White (1684?-1732), an engraver and painter who studied under his father Robert White for whom he also later worked, was a competent artist not known to have had any particular connection with the world of letters. Although enjoying a considerable reputation in his day, White was little known by the turn of the century. The answer may lie with the collector Alfred A. de Pass, who also gave the portrait of Pope (q.v., NPG 1179). He did not, however, supply any supporting evidence.

Condition:restored, 1920.

Collections:presented, 1920, by Alfred A. de Pass; previous history not known.

1308 By an unknown artist
Oil on canvas, 29 ¾ x 25 in. (755 x 636 mm) oval; almond-shaped grey-brown eyes, pouches below, strongly marked brown eyebrows, high light-brown wig falling well below shoulders, dark complexion; plum-coloured coat with blue facings, white cravat; light brown background shading to dark brown.

An inscription in black paint on the back of the relining canvas, copied no doubt from the original, reads: Wm. Somerville Esqr/ born Died.19th July / 1742 This Portrait supposed / to be the only one for / which Somerville / ever sat now presented / by him to his friend / Christopher Wren Esq / of Wroxhall Abbey / nr[?] Warwick in / 1738. Ontop of the stretcher a MS label 23538 and a printed label 780.

Crudely painted, possibly by a provincial hand, NPG 1308 is the only version known and, despite the omission of the sitter's date of birth, the inscription is acceptable. Christopher Wren (1675-1747), son of Sir Christopher, the eminent architect, who purchased Wroxhall Abbey, was a neighbour and particular friend of the sitter. [1]It has been suggested [1] that. NPG 1308 may be the source of the interesting whole length inscribed Wm Somerville Esqr / Author of the Chace which descended to the Blackett family of Matfen Hall, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, heirs to the Somerville estates. This portrait which is probably by Aikman was stated to have been given by the sitter, with other possessions, to his kinsman [3] the 13th Baron Somerville in return for financial assistance. It is also doubtless the painting which inspired Epistle to Mr Aikman the Painter On his painting a full-length Portrait of the Author in the decline of Life, carrying him back, by the Assistance of another Portrait, to his youthful Days. [4] The whole length portrait was engraved half length by R. Rhodes, 1815, when still in the possession of John Southey, 14th Baron Somerville (1765-1819). The similarity between the portrait by ‘Mr Aikman' and NPG 1308 is striking. The wig in the latter went out of fashion soon after 1695; the costume in the former indicates a date in the late 1720s when the sitter would have been considerably older than the young man there portrayed.

Condition:a small damage restored on the right shoulder; relined and revarnished, 1902.

Collections:given, 1902, by Mrs Charles Pigott, last lineal descendant of Christopher Wren (above).

Exhibited:‘NPE', 1867 (187), lent by C. Wren Hoskyns as by Sir Godfrey Kneller.

Engraved:by W.H. Worthington in 1821.


The only type at present certainly established is NPG 1308. Two portraits, present whereabouts unknown, are referred to in a letter from Lady Luxborough to Shenstone, 10 July 1751: 'I return Mr Somervile's picture . . . I think it very like Worlidge's, and indeed like Mr Somervile; but methinks it scarcely does him justice, as some of the least agreeable features in his face are rather too strongly marked; as under the eyes for example; and I think as he was very fair, the pencil might be fainter. But upon the whole, had I not another of him, I would not give this for a great sum.' [5] The portrait owned by Shenstone passed after his death to a Mr J. Hodgetts of Hagley, Worcestershire. [6]


A life-size whole length with a dog, stated to represent the sitter at the age of three, and an oval head and shoulders ascribed to Kneller when exhibited in ‘Art Treasures of the Midlands', 1934 (228), lent by Sir Edric Wolseley Bart (d.1954), should be treated with caution. The appearance of the latter presented, 1919, to Sir Edric from the collection of Field Marshal Lord Wolseley, [7] is difficult to reconcile with the sitter of NPG 1308. Both portraits are in the collection of Sir Charles Wolseley, 11th Bart.


1. Neale, III, 1820, pl.58 and preceding discussion.
2. By Miss A.M. Wrinch to whom I am indebted for research on this sitter.
3. They both claimed descent from Sir Walter Somerville, GEC, XII, part 1, p.105(a).
4. Somerville, Poetical Works,II, 1805, p.16.
5. P. Cunningham, Johnson's Lives of the Poets,1854, p.336, note 2.
6. Gentleman's Magazine, 1780, p.372.
7. Correspondence, 1970, with Birmingham City Museum and Art Gallery, NPG archives.


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