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Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

John Wilkes (1725-1797), Journalist, agitator and politician; MP for Aylesbury and Middlesex

Wilkes avoided sitting to Maria Cosway ‘by referring her to Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle, where there was a great likeness of me among the Sapajous and the Sagouins’ (W. T. Whitley, Artists and their Friends in England 1700-1799, 1928, II, p 117).
He figured prominently in satires and caricatures in 1763-64 and 1768-79, and M. D. George, British Museum, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, lists a further 69 published between 1770 and 1782. From 1763-64 his image was spread in a variety of forms (porcelain, teapots, punchbowls and pub signs). ‘Who knows’, said Wilkes, ‘but a time may come when some future Horace Walpole ... may prove that the numerous squinting portraits on tobacco papers, and half penny ballads, inscribed with the name of John Wilkes are a ‘weak invention of the enemy’ for that I was not only unlike them, but, if any inference can be drawn from the general partiality of the fair sex, the handsomest man of the age I lived in’ (J. Ireland, Hogarth Illustrated, 1806, II, p 243n).

Marble bust by L-F. Roubiliac, with wig, neckcloth, shirt and drape. Guildhall Art Gallery, London (1098), from the Sublime Society of Beefsteaks, sold Christie’s, 7 April 1869, lot 92.

Watercolour by L-C. de Carmontelle, whole length with his seated daughter (formerly identified as his mistress, Mme de Corradini). Christie’s, 4 July 1995, lot 135. Wilkes was with his daughter in Paris in 1763-64.

Drawing by William Hogarth, whole-length seated, holding the cap of Liberty (much resembling a chamber pot) on a pole over his head, with two numbers of the North Briton, 17 and 45, on the table at his side. British Museum (1936.10.15.1; illus. A. P. Oppé, Drawings of Hogarth, 1948, pl.89). Etched by Hogarth, published 16 May 1763 (illus. Paulson 1965, pl.237). Hogarth drew Wilkes in the Court of Common Pleas on 6 May 1763. Wilkes thought Hogarth’s portrait ‘must be allowed to be an excellent compound caricatura, or caricatura of what nature had already caricatured’ (English Liberty, pp 367-68), but it was drawn in a spirit of retribution; Hogarth had criticised Wilkes in his print of The Times (Paulson 1965, pls.233-34) and Wilkes had criticised Hogarth in the North Briton, no.17 (see Paulson 1965, pp 256-57).

Drawn and engraved by J. S. Müller [J. Miller], half length, at a window drawing back a curtain. Inscribed with lines from Pope: ‘Great without title, beyond Fortune bless’d, ...’ , with the Wilkes arms [ar., a chev. sa. betw. three eagle’s heads erased at the neck ppr.] and motto (arcui meo non confide). Another oval head by Müller was engraved by G. Byrne, and a third inscribed J. Miller at [sic] viv: fect.

Painting by R. E. Pine, three-quarter length seated at table, a quill in his right hand, a medallion of John Hampden in the foreground. Version in the Palace of Westminster dated 1768 (R. J. B. Walker, A Catalogue of paintings, drawings, engravings and sculpture in the Palace of Westminster compiled during 1959-77, 1988, I, p 362; illus. Stewart 1979, p 16). Engraved J. Watson 1764 (illus. Connoisseur, XIV, 1906, p 187); R. Purcell 1764 (inscribed: patricius pine humanarum Figurarum pictor Pinxit. Purcell nec non fecit; illus. Connoisseur, XIV, 1906, p 187); J. Wilson 1764; Kitchener 1768; W. Dickinson 1768 and 1774 (bust length, costume altered to that of lord mayor); C. Watson 1805 (bust length, for J. Almon, Correspondence of John Wilkes, 1805, I, front., inscribed after a Picture by Pine painted about the Year 1763); and see NPG 1944. Copy sold Christie’s, 13 December 1957, lot 95. For Pine and Wilkes, see J. Sunderland, Burlington Magazine, CXVI, 1974, p 322.

Anon. engravings: bust-length oval, supported by the figures of Britannia[?] and Hercules; a three-quarter length standing to right holding Bill of Rights, on an electoral broadsheet; bust-length oval to left (Universal Mag., XLII, f.p.316).

‘A fine picture of John Wilkes’ exhibited at the Polite Artists of Great Britain, London (W. T. Whitley, Artists and their Friends in England 1700-1799, 1928, I, p 193).

Thirteen medals were produced, marking Wilkes’s electoral victory (see NPG 1702), including two by John Kirk and two attributed to John Westwood sr. (L. Brown, A Catalogue of British Historical Medals 1760-1960: The Accession of George III to the Death of William IV, 1980, nos.113-25).

Engraving by G. Bockman, half-length oval in fur-lined aldermanic gown (illus. L. Colley, Britons, 1994, p 109).

Anon. engraving, see NPG 1702.

Engraving by R. Houston, see NPG 1944.

Engraving by J. Dixon, whole-length seated, holding the Magna Charta in his left hand, a picture of Hercules slaying the Hydra on the wall behind; on the table beside him papers inscribed Bill of Rights, To the Gentlemen Clergy & Freeholders of Middlesex and The Liberty of all Peers (see NPG 284). A later impression published by Carrington Bowles 1775, showing Wilkes as lord mayor, omitting the engraver’s name (both states illus. A Face for Any Occasion, Scottish NPG, 1976, p 14).

Painting formerly attributed to Johann Zoffany, based on the painting by Pine, Wilkes seated, holding a paper referring to his conflict with the secretary of state, Lord Halifax, in 1763, with John Glynn standing beyond him. Formerly with Col. Prideaux-Brune (illus. G. C. Williamson & Lady Victoria Manners, John Zoffany, R.A., his life and works, 1920, f.p.74).

Painting by R. E. Pine, exhibited Society of Artists, London, 1771 (125).

Wax bust by Patience Wright (C. C. Sellers, Benjamin Franklin in Portraiture, 1962, p 427).

Medal by John Kirk (L. Brown, A Catalogue of British Historical Medals 1760-1960: The Accession of George III to the Death of William IV, 1980, no.182).

Anon. medal, as lord mayor (L. Brown, A Catalogue of British Historical Medals 1760-1960: The Accession of George III to the Death of William IV, 1980, no.195).

Anon. engraving, whole length as lord mayor, pointing with his right hand (Lady’s Mag.). Another state lettered Elected Alderman Jan.2 1769 retains the mayoral collar.

Painting by Johann Zoffany, see NPG 6133.

Engraving by J. Sayers, whole length, wearing tricorne hat (M. D. George, British Museum, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires, V, 6067).

Engraving by H. Richter, bust length, with some teeth missing, based on the head by Hogarth of 1763 (Junius, 1797 ed., II).

A statue by James Butler, unveiled in 1988, stands at the corner of Fetter Lane.

Doubtful Portraits
A medallion by David d’Angers in the musée des Beaux-Arts, Angers, of a John Wilks (cf. J. G. Reuinis, Medallions of David d’Angers, 1998, pp 488-89); miniature of a Mr Wilks exhibited by Miss M. Byrne RA 1804 (734).

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, 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.