Samuel Richardson

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Samuel Richardson

by Joseph Highmore
oil on canvas, 1750
20 3/4 in. x 14 1/2 in. (527 mm x 368 mm)
Purchased, 1896
Primary Collection
NPG 1036

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Joseph Highmore (1692-1780), Painter. Artist or producer associated with 54 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Joseph Highmore's portrait of the novelist and publisher Samuel Richardson is a well-documented example of personal symbolism in a portrait. It was painted for the author's admirer and correspondent, Lady Dorothy Bradshaigh, who proposed this composition: 'I would choose to have you drawn in your study, a table or desk by you, with pen, ink and paper; one letter just sealed, which I shall fancy is to me.' She left artist and sitter to decide the size, and Richardson added his own tribute to Lady Bradshaigh and her husband by adding a portrait of them in the grounds of their home, Haigh Hall, over the fireplace. More detailed information on this portrait is available in a National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue, John Kerslake's Early Georgian Portraits (1977, out of print).

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Linked publicationsback to top

  • Kerslake, John, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, p. 233
  • Riding, Jacqueline, Basic instincts : love, passion and violence in the art of Joseph Highmore, 2017, p. 89 number 78
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 95
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 95 Read entry

    Samuel Richardson, the author of Pamela and Clarissa, described himself to Lady Bradshaigh, an admirer of his work, as 'short; rather plump than emaciated ... about five foot five inches'. This is precisely how he looks in this engagingly domestic work, which, in contrast to the grander traditions of much eighteenth-century portraiture, shows Richardson at home, with a large vase of flowers in the chimneyplace behind him, and his writing materials on the table beside him. The painting was, in fact, undertaken at the express wish of Lady Bradshaigh, who had greatly admired Highmore's illustrations to Pamela and decided that she would like to commission a portrait. She was very specific in her instructions, writing to Richardson, 'If you think proper, Sir, I would chuse to have you drawn in your study, a table or desk by you, with pen, ink and paper; one letter just sealed, which I shall fancy is to me.'

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 521
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 158 Read entry

    Carved and gilt pine, mitred and keyed, much regilt, the corner rosettes replaced in 1961 in carton pierre. 3 1⁄ 4 inches wide.

    Highmore painted this little portrait of the novelist Samuel Richardson between June and November 1750 for Richardson's admirer, Lady Bradshaigh of Haigh Hall, Lancashire. The frame is a scaled-down version of the sort found on many of Highmore's paintings of the period. In the background of the portrait is a view of Haigh Hall, probably that painted for Richardson in 1750, and perhaps by Highmore himself, framed in the rococo style. In the 1740s and 1750s Highmore used a number of distinctive frame types: the corner pattern found on his Pamela series of 1743-4, which recurs on a portrait of the Wyndham brothers of 1743 (Christie's, 14 July 1994, lot 27), and various more rococo patterns such as those found on his portraits of Mrs Iremonger, 1745 (Sotheby's, 18 November 1992, lot 55), Samuel Richardson, 1747 (Worshipful Company of Stationers), Henry Stebbings, 1757 (National Portrait Gallery). The frame on NPG 1036 has been heavily regilded so that much of the detail of the rocaille ornament and the mouldings has been lost, but conservation work to remove the later regilding was initiated in 1996.

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Events of 1750back to top

Current affairs

Notorious highwayman James MacLaine is apprehended and hanged at Tyburn, having passed in society as a wealthy gentleman for two years.
Scottish landlords start evicting tenants in the Highland Clearances.
Westminster Bridge is opened, the only fixed crossing of the River Thames between London Bridge and Putney.
Iron Act is passed restricting the manufacture of iron products in the American colonies.

Art and science

Electrician and experimental philosopher John Canton reads a paper before the Royal Society on a method of making artificial magnets.
Writer Samuel Johnson begins publishing his periodical The Rambler.
Artist Joshua Reynolds travels to Italy, where he remains until 1752.
Establishment of the Jockey Club; a gentleman's club which took over the regulation of British horse racing.


Composer Johann Sebastian Bach dies in Leipzig. He completes his Mass in B Minor, worked on over many years, shortly before his death.

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