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Regency Portraits Catalogue

Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), Astronomer

I am indebted to Anthony Turner for his help with this entry; his monograph is referred to here as A. J. Turner, though I have not taken up all his suggestions.

Oil and miniature, details and location unknown (A. J. Turner, A1 and B1).

Wedgwood medallion by Flaxman at Barlaston with later variants. There is some doubt about the exact date of this profile. Caroline Herschel's inventory lists it as 'Medallion of Wm H. by Flaxman of 1782' (Mrs John Herschel, Memoir of Caroline Herschel, 1876, p 349 though she admits her uncertainty about dates). The Royal Astronomical Society and other later versions are clearly dated 1783 and incised: FLAXMAN on the truncation. Sir William Watson seems to put it shortly before the date of his letter to Herschel, Christmas Day 1784: 'I have got one (& I could procure but one) medallion of you, which I have presented to Sr Joseph, who has put it into a frame & hung it up over the fire-place, in the inner room of his Library - The ground is blue - tho' I don't think it by any means a bad likeness, I wish however it to be more so - They have told the History of the discovery of the G. Sidus very ill, with their two sections of Circles & a radiant Star on the inner one - I have written to Wedgewood [sic] in hopes he would amend it, & have further advised him to have the two Circles further apart from each other (by removing the inner one) & to put a round ball on the outward & a Saturn on the inner Circle - I hope he will attend to this …' (RAS Herschel MSS.W.1/13(T) - 2/1.4).
It looks as though a profile was modelled by Flaxman in 1782 or 1783, a variant made on a smaller ground with the two circles added, and a third made by Lochée in 1787 with the circles further apart and a ball and Saturn added as suggested by Watson (reproduced Robin Reilly & George Savage, Wedgwood: The Portrait Medallions, 1973, pp 1-2). Flaxman's medallion was immediately pirated and published as an anon. line engraving in The European Magazine, 1 February 1785, and a drawing of it by Madame Dupiery was engraved by Thoenert for a French paper, also without acknowledgement.

Oil attributed to Mather Brown and probably of Herschel was offered for sale by Zeitlin & Ver Brugge, rare science booksellers of Los Angeles, cat. no.203 (April 1963) reproduced p 21.

Oil by Abbott (NPG 98).

Silhouette in British Museum made at the instigation of Sir William Watson either from the Abbott or another portrait by an unidentified artist named Bond (A. J. Turner, E1 and note 13).

Plaster bust and Wedgwood medallion by Lochée (NPG 4055).

Busts by Edmund Coffin, Lochée and Peter Chenu exhibited RA 1788 (630, 653 and 654).

Pastel by John Russell in the Science Museum, exhibited RA 1795 (77) and Second Exhibition of National Portraits, South Kensington, 1867 (504), half-length in brown furred gown holding diagram of 'The Georgian Planet and its Satellites', signed and dated: J. Russell, R.A. pt 1794; a copy is at Greenwich (NMM 59-15) and another copy, perhaps by the Danish artist C. A. Jensen, made at Collingwood for the Pulkowa Observatory (A. J. Turner, K4).

Portrait by Edward Burney mentioned by Fanny Burney in a letter to her father 18 December 1798.

Pastel by James Sharples in Bristol Art Gallery, profile to left.

Enamel miniature by Keenan in family collection, exhibited RA 1806 (721).

Chalk drawing by Rehberg, ad viv. Windsor 1814, head and shoulders to right with background of Gemini and telescopic aspect of Uranus, known from a large engraving by Godby; Caroline Herschel speaks of 'Rehberg's bad copy' and mentions a miniature copy of it (Memoir of Caroline Herschel, 1876, p 277). Tassie's medallion in the Scottish NPG (511) is based on Rehberg.

Oil by Artaud in the family collection, head and shoulders to left in brown coat and Star and Ribbon of Knight of Hanover, exhibited RA 1820 (500); Caroline records two sittings: 'My Brother went to town to sit for his portrait by Mr Artaud' (Diary, 16 December 1818 and 21 July 1819). A copy was made for Caroline herself (now in the Royal Astronomical Society) but became a victim of family jealousy: 'the disposal of my brother's picture is even denied me - it hangs in Mrs H's drawing-room where a set of old women play cards under it on her club days. ..' (Memoir of Caroline Herschel, 1876, p 235). Another copy was made for Bertie Greatheed in 1820 and was bought by the National Maritime Museum in 1979. 25 lithograph copies were made from Caroline's version which she had to borrow for the purpose in 1835 (A. J. Turner, O1-4).

Memorial by Theakston in St Lawrence's church, Upton, Slough.

Undated pre-1848
Portrait 'by a Lady' belonging to General Komarzwsky and according to Caroline 'a perfect likeness' (A. J. Turner, T1).

'Men of Science Living in 1807-8' by Gilbert (NPG 1075).

Marble bust by Henry Pegram based on Abbott's oil painting (NPG 98) and exhibited RA 1905 (1699).

Bronze bust by Judith Craig at the London Planetarium.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, 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.