Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

William (Thomas) Beckford (1760-1844), Writer, collector and eccentric dilettante

Dilettante, the only legitimate child of William Beckford (1709-70); MP 1784-94 and 1806-20; shunned by English society for his homosexuality, he spent much time abroad; author of Vathek, an Arabian tale, 1786; builder of Fonthill Abbey 1796-1818; his 2nd daughter married the 10th Duke of Hamilton.

‘[Beckford] seems to possess very extraordinary talents. He is a perfect master of music, but has a voice, either natural or feigned, of an eunuch ... His person and figure are agreeable’ (George Selwyn, 1782).

'He is shrewd, whimsical and fickle, petulant and rude; proud and vain, ... at such perpetual variance with himself, that, like an egg put into boiling water, he proves hard and soft in a couple of minutes' (Beckford of himself, 1791).


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.