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Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

John Wesley (1703-1791), Methodist leader

Wesley was a popular, busy figure both in Britain and America and the large number of portraits, contemporary and posthumous, differing widely in quality and iconographic value, are found in domestic ware, teapots, jugs and the like, as well as the usual media. The subject is considerable with Telford's handbook, although not invariably reliable, still a useful source. O'Donoghue's list, not exhaustive, records thirty-three engravings published during the sitter's lifetime or within two years of his death. A detailed critical survey of the portraiture is overdue. A number of items are preserved in the Chapel and in Wesley's home, as well as in the Methodist archives, in City Road; the latter is particularly rich in pottery busts.

Although Wesley probably had little time, there is firm evidence that he sat to Vertue, Hunter, Russell, Wood, Romney, almost certainly to Horsley, mentioned in the diary, 5 June 1784, and to Hamilton, probably the painter referred to in December 1787 (see NPG 317). References to 'the Painter', presumably more than one, also occur on 14 April 1783, [1] 8 April 1786, [2] 25 February 1788, [3] 13, 22, 25 February and 13 March 1790. [4] The entry, 22 February 1790, stating ‘I submitted to importunity, and once again sat for my picture, I could scarce believe myself - the picture of one in his eighty-seventh year' has been associated with a miniature by Arnold, at one time owned by T. Marriott. [5] It is, however, more likely to have been the portrait by John Barry (below).

Vertue, in 1736, engraved a portrait 'Dr Wesley sitting. ad vivum del GV' [6] (F. O'Donoghue and Sir Henry M. Hake, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits ... in the British Museum, 1908-25, 19). An oil by J. M. Williams (1710-c.1780) stated to be of 1742 [7] is at Didsbury College; a copy of 1745 at the Methodist Publishing House, City Road, is by J. Harley and a version or replica is at Lincoln College, Oxford. [8] The type was engraved by Faber junior by 1743 (J. Chaloner Smith, British Mezzotinto Portraits, 1878-83, 116), by John Downes in 1744, [9] and by Vertue in 1746. A rather crude portrait engraved and published by John Tinney, although apparently younger, is also near the type. A 'Mr. Westley' is mentioned in Reynolds' sitter book for 1755 on 8, 11, 13 and 15 March, on 30 June and 7 July [10] but no oil is now known. The sitter's own journals for March of that year are missing but his comment that Romney '... did more in an hour than Sir Joshua did in ten' (see NPG 2366) certainly suggests a sitting. On 30 June Wesley was on his way to Norwich [11] and on 7 July, having returned to London, recorded: 'Monday the 7th was our first day of solemn thanksgiving for the numberless spiritual blessings we have received. And I believe it was a day which will not soon be forgotten.’ [12] Reynolds' sitter books for 1756, 1763, 1774-76, 1783 and 1785 are missing. [13] Wesley might possibly have sat in any one of these years.

A crude oil said to be by Zoffany c.1760 was reproduced by Telford when in the collection of the Rev. M. Riggall. [14] A drawing by S. Harding showing more of the figure was engraved by W. N. Gardiner and published 10 March 1788. It is lettered Aged 85. On 31 July 1765 Wesley sat to Robert Hunter 'from about ten o'clock to half an hour after one; and in that time he began and ended, the face, and with a most striking likeness'. [15] The portrait was presented to Wesley's Chapel, City Road by a descendant of Mr Buttress [16] for whom it had been painted. There follow the portraits by Hone of 1766 (NPG 1351) and by John Russell [17] of 1773, a rough engraving of which appeared 20 March that year bearing the names of Faden, the artist's father-in-law, and Jefferyes. A better and equally rare engraving by Bland was published in July. [18] The original is now lost; the picture at Kingswood School is regarded as a copy. [19]

In 1781 Wesley sat to the young Enoch Wood (1759-1840) of the Burslem family of potters. [20] Many years later, in a long letter dated 2 October 1830 à propos a posthumous statue being carved by Samuel Manning for the Methodist Conference, the veteran Wesleyan Dr Adam Clarke wrote to Wood [21] recalling the particulars and asking for advice. Mr Manning, it appeared, 'had endeavoured scientifically to arrange and harmonize ... various paintings and engravings of Mr Wesley ... yet could attain only an incongruous whole, having a resemblance without much likeness ... I then spoke of the bust executed by you, the model of which you kindly presented to me when once on a visit to Burslem ... I ... have mentioned your work as the only one that could fairly pretend to be compared with the original, but I may be wrong in the date or any other article'. Dr Clarke then asks 'for your [Wood's] correction and any item of information which might embellish my description ...', which reads: 'Mr Enoch Wood of Burslem in 1781 made a model of Mr Wesley in busto which was the most happily executed of all that hitherto had been done. Mr Wesley himself was so well satisfied that ... though pressed by various duties and straitened for time he cheerfully sat five times to this Artist till he was convinced that he had given a very faithful copy of nature. Several correct copies were taken from this model and were dispersed ... among ... Mr Wesley's intimate friends, but the original model became afterwards recopied by mere mechanical men till the likeness, the expression and even the attitude ... were lost and the thing became a caricature. Fortunately, the original model was kindly presented to me by the Artist himself. This to preserve for ever I got cast in brass [22] and under the eye of that eminent master, John Jackson, Esq., R.A., it was chased up to the original. The model itself I lent to Mr. Manning when I found that he meditated a whole length marble statue of this super-eminent man ...'. Wood replied 6 October, that the bust presented to Clarke was 'taken out of the original mould cast upon the clay model', i.e. not the original model itself as Clarke supposed. 'Your bust of Mr. Wesley', Wood further explains, 'was taken by me in the year 1781 with the greatest care and attention, I was then capable of, in the 22nd year of my age, having practiced the art from a very early age ...'. Wood also relates that at the sitter's request he remedied the 'melancholy expression' and that Wesley's servant Joseph Bradford 'was so much pleased at the growing likeness of his master that ... he threw all impediments which he could ... in the way of Mr Wesley's rising ... to give me a full opportunity of perfecting the resemblance'. [23] Subsequent correspondence established that Wood did not complete the details of the drapery at the earlier sittings when Wesley's gown, worn by Bradford, appeared crushed and short of two buttons. In January 1831 he sent Clarke one of the editions of the bust made at Burslem from c.1791 (the so-called Class B [24]) showing the more finished treatment of the drapery and button. [25]

This account assumes a clay model, c.1781, Clarke's cast from it, the brass Clarke had taken from that, and a modified version, taking account of changes in the dress, c.1791. A modern cast from a mould once in the Wood factory was taken c.1900 for the manufacturer Hammersley, while what was said to be Clarke's cast was last heard of c.1930. [26] A similar cream biscuit ware bust, unglazed, has been stated to be at Wesley's house or at the Methodist archives in City Road. [27] This proves likely to be an unglazed plaster after-mould.

With the assistance of Mr J. V. G. Mallet the large collection of busts there has recently been examined in detail. This has led to modification of some of the views expressed by Falkner and to the conclusion that no ad vivum work has as yet been identified. The collection has upwards of twenty busts from the Wood factory between c.1781 and c.1820, besides a considerable number of versions from other workshops. It includes one unglazed buff stoneware piece, partially painted in oil colour, a black basaltes version, and a number of glazed pottery pieces. The two former were of the so-called type A; [28] the latter include types A and B, a modern classification devised to distinguish the changes in the drapery described above. This division is, however, rather superficial, for the differences in the busts affect only the length of the body, and cannot be shown to coincide with the changes described above. In B, [29] the longer type, a sash is added, and the figure is a little higher than the 22.5 cm of class A. In all however, the head, approximately 8.5 cm from chin to crown, is of the same type, and even the sharpest examples at City Road have a triangular mould mark visible on the wig.

In the years 1782-90 when he is known to have visited Bath and the family of the miniaturist Lewis Vaslet (d. 1808), Wesley may well have sat for the portrait engraved by J. Jones (F. O'Donoghue and Sir Henry M. Hake, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits ... in the British Museum, 1908-25, 18) published, 1791, three months after the sitter's death. [30] An oil by Thomas Horsley of Sunderland, said to have been a pupil of Romney, is stated to be of 1790 [31] but is more likely to relate to Wesley's visit to that city in 1784 and to the diary entry for Saturday afternoon, 5 June: ‘3 on business, picture!' [32] The portrait painted from life for Robert Hutton of Bishops Wearmouth, was presented, 1863, by his grandson Charles Hutton Potts to Richmond College (formerly the Methodist Institution), Surrey. [33] At least five versions are known, including one painted for Mr Lipton, Hutton's father-in-law, and another, now at Sans Street Chapel, Sunderland, which, according to the artist's son, was a replica. [34]

A wax profile by S. Percy, incised and dated 1788, was stated to have been in the Burdett-Coutts collection, 1922. [35] At the end of 1788 and the beginning of 1789, Wesley sat to Romney (see NPG 2366). In the following year a 'Portrait of a clergyman' was exhibited by John Barry at the RA, 1790 (336). [36] This is believed to be the miniature known from the engraving by J. Fittler, 1791, very likely that seen by Scharf, 1872. It was last at Christie's, 2 May 1901, lot 124, when a paper on the back was read: original miniature of the Revd J. Wesley/A.M. by J. Barry./became the property of the Revd C./Girdlestone, 1840, whose wife was a niece of the widow of Rev" Dr. Barry vicar of St. Mary's Reading. [37] A number of portraits apparently based on this design include one inscribed B W.1789 incorrectly attributed to Benjamin West, a miniature on ivory ascribed to Arnold, the 'Hitt' portrait and even perhaps the portrait by John Renton, engraved by W. T. Fry, 1824. [38] A crude oil of the type was published by A. H. Carr, 1930. A sketch of Wesley lying in his coffin by an unknown artist was engraved by W. Ridley and published 1791 (F. O'Donoghue and Sir Henry M. Hake, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits ... in the British Museum, 1908-25, 27). A life-size black Coade ware bust, 1793, was presented to the Wesley Historical Society c.1961 by Miss Mooring Aldridge. In profile it much resembles the engraving by Ridley although there is a not fully substantiated tradition that it was made for an ancestor with whom Wesley had stayed in Wiltshire.

1) The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed. N. Curnock, 1909-16, VI, p 404.
2) Ibid, VII, p 154.
3) Ibid, p 357.
4) Ibid, VIII, pp 42-44, 48.
5) Ibid, p 44, note 1. The size of the miniature given as 4 ¼ x 3 ¼ in.
6) MS list of his engravings, f.19, W. S. Lewis collection, photostat in NPG archives.
7) J. Telford, Sayings and Portraits of Wesley, 1924, pp 66-67.
8) R. L. Poole, Catalogue of Portraits in the Possession of the University, Colleges, City and County of Oxford, 1912-25, II (21).
9) The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed. N. Curnock, 1909-16, 4 November 1774, VI, p 46; reproduced p 47.
10) Sir Ellis K. Waterhouse, Reynolds's 'Sitter Book' for 1755, Walpole Society, XLI, 1968, p 162.
11) The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed. N. Curnock, 1909-16, IV, p 123.
12) Ibid, p 124.
13) Sir Ellis K. Waterhouse, Reynolds (English Master Painters), 1941, p 36.
14) J. Telford, Sayings and Portraits of Wesley, 1924, p 86.
15) The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed. N. Curnock, 1909-16, V, p 139.
16) According to paper on back of canvas, NPG archives.
17) The first Methodist RA, converted by the sitter's brother Charles; J. Telford, Sayings and Portraits of Wesley, 1924, p 98.
18) G. C. Williamson, John Russell, R.A., 1894, p 22.
19) J. Telford, Sayings and Portraits of Wesley, 1924, p 98.
20) U. Thieme and F. Becker, Allgemeines Lexikon der Bildenden Künstler, 1907-50, XXXVI, p 240.
21) F. Falkner, The Wood Family of Burslem, 1912, pp 47-48, quoted here.
22) C. S. Sargisson, 'John Wesley Busts in Staffordshire Pottery', Connoisseur, XIX, 1907, probably pl.vii, p 14; The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed. N. Curnock, 1909-16, VI, p 309, note 4.
23) F. Falkner, The Wood Family of Burslem, 1912, pp 48-49.
24) Ibid, p 54 (illustration no.118), citing Rev. R. Green, 'Enoch Wood's Busts of Wesley', Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, June 1907.
25) Ibid, p 51, letter January 1831, Wood to Clarke.
26) Ibid, illustration no.119, opposite p 56; C. S. Sargisson, 'John Wesley Busts in Staffordshire Pottery', Connoisseur, XIX, 1907, p 17, pl.xii.
27) The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed. N. Curnock, 1909-16, VI, reproduced opposite p 488.
28) Reproduced F. Falkner, The Wood Family of Burslem, 1912, illustration nos 116, 117, opposite p 52.
29) Ibid, illustration no.118, opposite p 56.
30) J. Telford, Sayings and Portraits of Wesley, 1924, pp 170-71.
31) Notes and Queries, 3rd series, VII, p 256; ibid, pp 142-43.
32) The Journal of the Rev. John Wesley, A.M., ed. N. Curnock, 1909-16, VI, p 513.
33) Notes and Queries, 3rd series, VII, p 256.
34) F. F. Bretherton, Proceedings of the Wesley Historical Society, XXIII, part 2, 1941, pp 31-32.
35) J. Telford, Sayings and Portraits of Wesley, 1924, pp 134-35 as by C. E. Percy; the only portrait of Wesley in the objets sale, Christie's, 9 May 1922, was lot 420, an enamel by Grimaldi, 1830.
36) A. Graves, The Royal Academy of Arts, I, p 133; B. Long, British Miniaturists, 1929, pp 16-17.
37) NPG archives.
38) J. Telford, Sayings and Portraits of Wesley, 1924, pp 130-31, 138-39, 182-83, 186-87.


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.