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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), Composer

Portraits are widely dispersed with few public institutions possessing more than one. Mr Gerald Coke's collection of early editions and manuscripts of Handel also contains portraits, some of them from the Flower collection. Although lists have been compiled by, among others, Vogel, [1] Coopersmith [2] and the late W. C. Smith, [3] as well as for the Dictionary of National Biography and successive editions of Grove, [4] the subject has hitherto been mainly the preserve of the musicologist and the collector. Very little seems to survive, or at least has been identified, from the early years, and with no sitter books known for Mercier, Hudson and Roubiliac, to name but a few of the major figures, chronology is a considerable problem. While he may have sat more than once, few artists leave an impression of the sitter's advancing years, with the exception of the second Hudson portrait, revealing a sadness rare for his bland brush, and the little Roubiliac roundel in the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Handel settled in England in 1712 and a few portraits, if taken before this date, may have remained abroad. After 1712 his journeys were comparatively infrequent and brief - to Germany 1716 and 1719, Italy 1729, Dublin 1741-42, and in Germany again 1737 and 1750. [5] The earliest indisputably dated portrait is Roubiliac's Vauxhall statue of 1738, produced when the sitter had already been resident in England some twenty-six years.

To 1738
Charles Burney's will of January 1807 records 'My half length Picture of Handel, painted by Wolfgang at Hanover in the year 1710, where he stopt at the Elector's Court (afterwards Geo. the first, King of England) on his way from Italy to London ... is the best picture of him, and must have a strong resemblance in his 24th year when it was painted. Mrs Delany, who saw him in the first year of his arrival, to whom this portrait was shewn, said no resemblance on canvas could be stronger, and Sir Joshua Reynolds, when he saw it, said he was sure it was like, as it was not a made up face'. [6]

Mrs Delany first met the Burneys in 1783 [7] but Charles Burney does not say when he acquired the picture, which he offered as a bequest to the 'Concert of Ancient Music' (founded 1776). [8] It may have been the portrait by Wolfgang advertised for sale in The Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, 8 May 1789. [9] The last firm reference is the 1814 sale when it was bought by Bartleman (see NPG 878). The Wolfgangs of Augsburg are complicated and confusing. [10] Burney's portrait does not seem to have been engraved and his date of 1710 and attribution cannot be tested, but he is circumstantial and emphatic. The only appropriate Wolfgang working c.1710 is Gustav Andreas (1692-1775), who painted oils and miniatures, and was also an engraver.

W. C. Smith's statement that the 'Burney portrait was afterwards acquired by Snoxell' suggests that he identifies it with the portrait sold with an engraving after it in the Snoxell sale, Puttick and Simpson, 9 June 1879, lot 272, bought W. Clark. [11] (No previous history given in the sale catalogue.) The conjunction of painting and engraving, however, points to the type of c.1738, discussed below, probably painted by Georg Andreas Wolfgang the younger (1703-45), and engraved by his father Johann Georg Wolfgang (1662-1744).

Vogel refers to a miniature by Zincke then, 1896, in the Barrett Lennard collection, [12] as the earliest surviving portrait. Even if correctly named, the reproduction raises doubts since the wig indicates a date in the 1740s. Zincke, a fellow German, may well have painted Handel but the only evidence of any connection is that his name appears as a subscriber to publications by Handel, 1736-39. [13]

Of existing portraits, the earliest are NPG 1976 attributed to Denner and the fine oil by Mercier, with harpsichord, pen and music (unidentified) in the Malmesbury collection. The portrait, given by the sitter c.1748 to his friend Thomas Harris, has an inscription on the back of the relining canvas: Original Portrait of the Handel/Given/By Him To/Ths ... Harris Esqr./About 1748. [14] Conceivably of the late 'twenties, Handel looks younger than in the majority of known portraits. The picture was also signed but the traces of a date, despite examination when exhibited 'Hampshire Houses', 1955 (42) and 'Philip Mercier', Kenwood (21) remain indecipherable.

‘Alexander's Feast' and After
While the mezzotints of the 1747 Hudson probably had the widest popularity, the first engraving is probably that by Houbraken, 1738. As discussed under NPG 2152, the source of this head has not been identified. Houbraken's engraving is set in a cartouche by Gravelot, representing the opening scene from Alexander's Feast. [15] It is a testimony to Handel's reputation and to the astuteness of his publishers, that the artists selected were those chosen to illustrate Birch's important Heads of the Illustrious Persons of Great Britain. [16] The Handel is of the same format as Birch's past celebrities, but the engraving was issued not for the Heads, but separately for subscribers to Walsh's edition of the Feast.

Another type, also connected with Alexander's Feast, is usually attributed to Georg Andreas Wolfgang the younger, known to have painted oils and miniatures. It can be dated c.1737 on the basis of a small pencil and sepia drawing of the same type, formerly at Leipzig, on the back of which was an old inscription stating it to have been taken by Wolfgang in London in that year. [17] The terminus for this type, engraved by J. G. Wolfgang, [18] rests on the date of his death in 1744. Two versions in this country are the miniature at Windsor signed GAW and an oil in which the sitter is shown holding a book lettered Alexander's Feast. Now in the Flower collection and listed as a Hudson when with Henrici of Berlin, 1928, [19] it was previously in the collection of Dr Harry E. Smith of Streatham. [20]

Roubiliac's great statue of Handel as Apollo, 1738, commissioned by Jonathan Tyers, proprietor of the Vauxhall Gardens, [21] was the first public monument in England to so honour a man, who was neither king nor warrior, in his lifetime. It is now in the Victoria and Albert Museum. His marble bust at Windsor is dated 1739. By 1742 when Paul Petit was paid for framing it, the Prince of Wales had 'A portrait of Mr Hendle painted by Mr Goupy' [22] - J. Goupy who painted the scenery for many of Handel's operas and whose cartoon 'The charming Brute', published after the furore of the production of Deborah so offended the composer. [23] A pastel of it is in the Fitzwilliam.

After 1739 come the types represented by NPG 2151, 2152 and the Hudsons discussed under NPG 3970. A comparatively late portrait by an unknown artist, owned, 1959, by Herr Foss, a descendant of Handel's sister Dorothea, is reproduced by Flower. [24] On comparison with known portraits, it seems rightly named.

Roubiliac's last certain portrait is the monument in Westminster Abbey, 1761. [25] A modello for the latter is in the Ashmolean; another, recently discovered in Bath, was acquired by Mr Coke. [26] The moving terracotta roundel, acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1961, virtually inconceivable as the work of any other sculptor, argues a sitting and a late date, possibly illness, although an artist of Roubiliac's calibre could have achieved the result on the basis of earlier sittings. The bronze medallion in the collection of F. J. B. Watson relates to known Roubiliac types and formed, with heads of Pope, Garrick and Conyers Middleton, a set of four; [27] a similar bronze bust is in a private collection in Bremen. [28] The profile plaster in Sir John Soane's collection [29] appears to have been associated with Roubiliac from an early date.

Posthumous
A national tribute, the Handel Commemoration, first of a series of concerts in Westminster Abbey begun in 1784 [30] to mark the supposed centenary of the composer's birth, was largely due to the instigation of three amateurs of music, Viscount Fitzwilliam, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and Joah Bates. It was attended by the King and Queen, and the elite of society and music. Rebecca's Apotheosis issued in connection with the 1787 performance is somewhat weak. Edward Edwards painted a circumstantial account of the scene, exhibited at the RA 1793 (198); it is now in the Mellon collection. But the more satisfying apotheosis was to come not from the graphic arts, but from the annual performance of Handel's works which henceforth became an established feature of English musical life.

Lost Portraits
A miniature by Christopher Barber was offered to the British Museum c.1759. [31] A portrait in crayons by Hoare 'manifestly like' was still in the possession of the painter's brother, Prince Hoare, when he showed it to Farington in April 1809 [32] (see NPG 2151).

Few pictures of Handel, according to Hawkins in 1776, 'are to any tolerable degree likenesses, except one painted abroad ... in the print of him by Houbraken the features are too prominent; and in the mezzotint after Hudson there is a harshness to which his countenance was a stranger; the most perfect resemblance of him is the statue on his monument, and in that the true lineaments of his face are apparent'. [33] Despite the advantage of his acquaintance with the sitter, Hawkins' comments are not easily assessed since we cannot know how many portraits of Handel known to us were also known to him.

False Portraits
These include one attributed to Thornhill in the Fitzwilliam Museum, the portrait at Knole (discussed under NPG 1976), the two oils in the Foundling Hospital (Thomas Coram Foundation) and the portrait in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

1) E. Vogel, 'Händel portraits', Jahrbuch der Musikbibliothek Peters für 1896.
2) J. C. Coopersmith, 'A list of Portraits, Sculptures etc. of G.F. Handel', Music and Letters, XIII, 1932.
3) It is hoped to publish Smith's text under the care of Mr Coke.
4) Dictionary of Music ..., 5th edition, 1954.
5) O. E. Deutsch, Handel: a documentary biography, 1955, p 914.
6) P. A. Scholes, The Great Dr. Burney, 1948, II, p 269.
7) Ibid, p 18.
8) The offer was declined, ibid, pp 178, 269-70 and note 4.
9) W. C. Smith, Concerning Handel, 1948, p 132.
10) See U. Thieme and F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, 1907-50, XXXVI, pp 220-22.
11) W. C. Smith, Concerning Handel, 1948, pp 133-34. This may be the portrait in a Swedish private collection, 1968, with an impression of the Wolfgang engraving on the back and the remnants of the name Clark on a torn label. It is not the engraved type, nor is it certainly of Handel.
12) E. Vogel, 'Händel portraits', Jahrbuch der Musikbibliothek Peters für 1896, p 22; Musical Times (Handel number), p 6. Barrett Lennard owned some Handeliana which he gave to the Fitzwilliam, 'Handel and the Fitzwilliam', Cambridge, 1974 (5, 19, 26). An enamel in the same exhibition (13), ascribed to Zincke, is a copy of the 1747 Hudson.
13) O. E. Deutsch, Handel: a documentary biography, 1955, pp 410, 425, 430, 450, 454, 499.
14) Lord Malmesbury, 'Some Anecdotes of the Harris Family', The Ancestor, 1902, I, p 12.
15) Gravelot's drawing is now in the British Museum.
16) An incomplete set of these 'Numbers' each of four plates, sewn in blue wrappers, was acquired for the NPG library in 1960. Number V appeared by 4 May 1738, the date of the advertisement on the wrapper for the edition of Samuel Clarke's Works. Houbraken's engraving of Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, in Number I, is dated 1735; the completed number probably appeared late 1737, or early 1738. The 108 Heads first appeared in book form in 1743.
17) Collection Peters edition in 1896; W. C. Smith, Concerning Handel, 1948, p 132; E. Vogel, 'Händel portraits', Jahrbuch der Musikbibliothek Peters für 1896, frontispiece.
18) F. O'Donoghue and Sir Henry M. Hake, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits ... in the British Museum, 1908-25, 31, as G. Wolffgang after G. Wolffgang.
19) Karl Ernst Henrici, Auktionskatalog, CXXX, 1928, lot 129; Newman Flower, George Frideric Handel ..., new revised edition, 1959 frontispiece.
20) In 1953, when the NPG purchased the Reynolds, Burney descendants were still living in Streatham.
21) T. W. I. Hodgkinson, 'Handel at Vauxhall', Victoria and Albert Museum Bulletin, 1965, I, pp 1 ff.
22) Sir Oliver Millar, The Tudor Stuart and Early Georgian Pictures in the collection of Her Majesty The Queen, 1963, p 184.
23) O. E. Deutsch, Handel: a documentary biography, 1955, p 748; cp Newman Flower, George Frideric Handel ..., revised edition, 1959, reproduced opposite p 225.
24) Newman Flower, George Frideric Handel ..., revised edition, 1959, opposite p 352.
25) M. Whinney, Sculpture in Britain 1530-1830, 1964, p 109.
26) Reproduced, M. Whinney, 'Handel and Roubiliac', Musical Times, February 1961, fig. 4; the Ashmolean modello is nearer the final design.
27) J. V. G. Mallet, 'Some portrait medallions by Roubiliac', Burlington Magazine, CIV, 1962, pp 153-58, pl.30.
28) Exhibited 'Bildkunst im Zeitalter Johann Sebastian Bach', Kunsthalle, Bremen, 1971 (258).
29) Official Handbook, 10th edition, 1920, pp 68-69; J. V. G. Mallet, 'Some portrait medallions by Roubiliac', Burlington Magazine, CIV, 1962, p 157, note 19.
30) C. Burney, An Account of the ... Commemoration of Handel, 1785, passim.
31) Information, E. Croft-Murray, 1974.
32) J. Farington, The Farington Diary, 18 April 1809, Windsor typescript, pp 4101-02.
33) Sir John Hawkins, A General History ... of Music, 1776, V, pp 412-13.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.