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Robert Bakewell

1 of 2 portraits by John Boultbee

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Robert Bakewell

by John Boultbee
oil on canvas, circa 1788-1790
27 3/4 in. x 35 3/4 in. (710 mm x 910 mm)
Purchased, 1987
Primary Collection
NPG 5949

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • John Boultbee (1753-1812), Artist. Artist or producer associated with 2 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Bakewell is shown here with his animals, in a portrait by a local Leicestershire artist, as a living advertisement for his own methods. In his obituary the Gentleman's Magazine observed that though 'rather inclined to corpulence … his countenance bespoke intelligence, activity and a high degree of benevolence.'

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 49
  • Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 145
  • Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 25
  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 77 Read entry

    Described rather quaintly in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as a grazier, Bakewell was in fact a pioneer of agricultural economics, and his stock-breeding programmes paved the way for today’s specialised and intensive-farming techniques. He is portrayed here as the bachelor yeoman farmer that he was. Working from his country seat at Dishley Grange in Leicestershire, he experimented with his local Longhorn cattle to breed small-boned animals, producing the maximum amount of meat and fat in the shortest time to feed, and provide tallow candles for, the rapidly growing and industrialised population. The results of this programme were the ridiculously small-headed and cylindrical-bodied cattle familiar to us from early nineteenth-century paintings. Some of Bakewell’s Longhorn cattle can be seen grazing in the field behind.

    The artist John Boultbee was also a Leicestershire man, whose paintings at their best can be mistaken for those by Stubbs. He was quickly adopted by Bakewell to portray (and thus advertise through subsequent prints) his latest prize cattle. This portrait seems actually to have been commissioned by an associate of Bakewell’s, John Fowler, and exists in four versions. That Boultbee was no Stubbs can be seen not only in the portrait’s charming naivety but also in his problems with the horse’s anatomy. Changes to the position of the horse’s legs are visible in at least three of the different versions. This version is apparently the only one to show the little dog, which is probably some sort of local terrier. Gazing slightly reproachfully at its master, as if asking to be given a lift instead of having to run around after the horse, it adds a humane and narrative touch to the portrait of a man who, despite his calling and his grisly museum of pickled joints and skeletons, was known for his concern for his animals’ welfare.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 30

Placesback to top

Events of 1788back to top

Current affairs

Parliament begins an investigation into the slave trade, led by reformers Thomas Clarkson and William Wilberforce.
Regency Crisis; George III's madness is announced provoking a political storm.
Former Governor-General of Bengal Warren Hastings' trial begins before the House of Lords.
Henry Benedict Stuart becomes the new Stuart claimant to the British throne.

Art and science

Artist Thomas Gainsborough dies.
First edition of The Times newspaper is published in London.
Scottish engineer and inventor William Symington demonstrates the first paddle steamer on Dalswinton Loch near Dumfries.
Robert Burns writes his version of the Scots poem Auld Lang Syne.


Ministers of the French King, Louis XVI, reluctantly announce that the Estates General will meet the following year, for the first time since 1614.
United States constitution comes into force when New Hampshire becomes the ninth state to ratify it.
First Fleet reaches Australia, anchoring in Botany Bay. Arthur Phillip, selecting a suitable site for the first Australian penal colony, names the place Sydney Cove.

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Pat Marshall

29 June 2016, 03:10

Robert Bakewell lived at Dishley Grange, near Loughborough in Leicestershire, there used to be a Churchyard with his grave, Dishley was in the countryside but houses are being built up in the area, not sure if the area has been preserved.
My husband and I lived in the area but now live in Canada.

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