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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Jonathan Richardson (1667-1745), Portrait painter

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. [1] A youthful looking drawing in the Huntington Library and Art Gallery [2] is dated 1707 and a similar painting, with the Vose Galleries, Boston, in 1936, is inscribed AEtat 50/1717. In 1723, 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'. [3] Mr Wright, who remains untraced, is unlikely to be the painter J. M. Wright (d. 1700) suggested by Vertue's editors. [4] With the possible exception of NPG 706 the oils mentioned are not identifiable; the wig in the painting at Polesden Lacy is of c.1728 and 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 (see NPG 706, Provenance) 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'. [5]

Some confusion of identity has arisen. The self-portrait in the Lindsay collection (see NPG 706) 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 Second Exhibition of National Portraits, South Kensington, 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 [6] 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) Too much should not be read into the word ‘Painted'.
2) R. R. Wark, Early British Drawings in the Huntington Collection 1600-1750, The Huntington Library, 1969, p 40B.
3) G. Vertue, Vertue Note Books (edited by The Earl of Ilchester), Walpole Society, 1930-55, III, p 12.
4) Ibid, Index to vols I-V, p 295.
5) H. Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, Anecdotes of Painting in England ... collected by ... George Vertue; digested ... by Horace Walpole, edited J. Dalloway and R. N. Wornum, 1862, II, p 661.
6) J. F. Kerslake, 'The Richardsons and the Cult of Milton', Burlington Magazine, CXIX, 1957, reproduced p 24, pl.27.


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.