Sir Isaac Newton

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Sir Isaac Newton

by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
oil on canvas, feigned oval, 1702
29 3/4 in. x 24 1/2 in. (756 mm x 622 mm)
Purchased with help from the Art Fund, 1936
Primary Collection
NPG 2881

On display in Room 9 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Mathematical scientist. Sitter associated with 46 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt (1646-1723), Portrait painter. Artist or producer associated with 1689 portraits, Sitter associated with 30 portraits.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 38
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 24 Read entry

    An intense and vivid portrait of the great scholar. A successful and self-promoting academic politician, Newton used portraiture to confirm and celebrate his status.

  • Cooper, John, Great Britons: The Great Debate, 2002, p. 81
  • Edited by Rab MacGibbon and Tanya Bentley, Icons and Identities, 2021, p. 33
  • Hart-Davis, Adam, Chain Reactions, 2000, p. 29
  • Ingamells, John, Later Stuart Portraits 1685-1714, 2009, p. 189
  • Ollard, Richard, Pepys and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 95
  • Parris, Matthew, Heroes and Villains: Scarfe at the National Portrait Gallery, 2003 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 30 September 2003 to 4 April 2004), p. 99
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 110
  • Rab MacGibbon, National Portrait Gallery: The Collection, p. 37
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 458
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 284
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 95 Read entry

    One of the greatest of all scientists and thinkers, Isaac Newton was the most important influence on theoretical physics and astronomy before Albert Einstein. His wide-ranging achievements include theories concerning light, colour and calculus. His most significant contribution to scientific thought is the theory of universal gravitation, an idea that supposedly first came to him when he saw an apple falling from a tree. His most important theories were published in two seminal works: Mathematica Principia (1687) and Opticks (1704). He was knighted by Queen Anne in 1705 and presided over the Royal Society from 1703 until his death.

    This portrait was painted when Newton, aged sixty, and Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723), aged fifty-six, were at the indisputable pinnacle of their respective professions. The picture is conventional in almost every sense – the head-and-shoulders composition, the wig and the arbitrary swathe of drapery. However, Kneller’s vigorous, swift handling gives the picture an exceptional vividness and expressive quality, while the piercing intensity of Newton’s gaze provides a sense of the sitter’s genius.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1702back to top

Current affairs

William III dies and is succeeded by Anne, his sister-in-law, the second daughter of James II and Anne Hyde. Committed to the Church of England and swayed towards Tory values, the queen would enjoy considerable popularity.
The general election sweeps the Tories to power in a landslide victory.

Art and science

Writer, Daniel Defoe, publishes the Shortest Way with the Dissenters. The pamphlet is considered critical of the Anglican Church and Defoe is eventually arrested for seditious libel and briefly imprisoned.
The Daily Courant, Britain's first daily newspaper consisting of one page with two columns, is printed by Elizabeth Mallet.


Admiral George Rooke overwhelmingly defeats a French squadron escorting a Spanish silver fleet from South America, at the naval Battle of Vigo Bay.
In the War of the Spanish Succession, John Churchill, Captain-General of the Forces, forces the French to withdraw from the River Maas.

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