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Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

George Steevens (1736-1800), Commentator on Shakespeare

According to one obituary Steevens ‘never would sit for his picture’ (Gentleman's Magazine, LXX, 1800, I, p 178), but in 1812 John Nichols (J. Nichols, Literary Anecdotes of the Eighteenth Century, II, p 658) wrote that

‘A capital portrait of Mr Steevens was accidentally discovered, a few years since, which he had looked all London through to find, but to no purpose. It was the intention of the Original to serve this inimitable likeness as he had before done a miniature of himself by Myres, and a whole-length, in the character of Barbarossa, which Mr Steevens played in a private theatre with great eclat. Fortunately the third and last picture of this extraordinary man escaped the ravage of the self-destroyer. It was painted by Zoffanii before he went to India, and sold, with many others, to a Mr Clark, in Princes-street, having been left in the Painter’s hands, who got rid of all his portraits when he set out to his Eastern expedition [such a sale is not recorded by Lugt; a half-length portrait by Zoffany was in Richard Clark’s sale (L.7634), Christie’s, 15 September 1809, lot 17a]. From this picture an excellent print was engraved for sale, at the expence of Sylvester Harding, in whose family the plate now remains.'
Painting by Johann Zoffany, kit-cat seated with two dogs. Christie’s, 20 April 1990, lot 31. Inscribed (after 1800) as painted in 1774. Engraved W. Evans 1800; T. Hodgetts 1816 (half-length oval). A crude drawing of the head, probably connected with one of the engravings, is in the Garrick Club (G. Ashton , Pictures in the Garrick Club, ed. K. A. Burnim & A. Wilton, 1997, no.772). The identification of this portrait was entirely due to Nichols (see above); presumably he was right.

Miniature attributed to Jeremiah Meyer, bust-length oval. Philippa Steevens, Philadelphia, in 1960, a collateral descendant. Presumably the miniature listed in DNB as with Mrs Inglis of Cheltenham, a great-granddaughter of Mrs Collinson, Steevens’s cousin and housekeeper (and see Nichols above).

Engravings by J. Sayers, bust ‘from memory’ and half-length oval. Steevens was so exasperated at receiving an etching of his face (‘though not a very good likeness’), taken by stealth by Sayers that ‘he threatened to cane the fellow’ (J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times, ed. W. Whitten, 1920, I, pp 64-65).

Drawing by George Dance, see NPG 1160.

Monument by John Flaxman whole-length bas relief, seated, contemplating the bust of Shakespeare. Formerly St Matthias, Poplar, London (illus. Flaxman, RA, 1979, no.117). Engraved H. Moses 1811; G. Cooke 1812 (reissued 1828). Steevens’s father had been a governor of the East India Company, for whom the church of St Matthias was built.

Doubtful Portraits
Painting by E. Haytley, small whole length, Sotheby’s, 30 April 1980, lot 360.

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.