Lord Byron

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Lord Byron

replica by Thomas Phillips
oil on canvas, circa 1835, based on a work of 1813
30 1/8 in. x 25 1/8 in. (765 mm x 639 mm)
Purchased, 1862
Primary Collection
NPG 142

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • Thomas Phillips (1770-1845), Portrait painter. Artist or producer associated with 216 portraits, Sitter in 4 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Byron sat to Phillips in 1813 wearing the Albanian costume which he had bought four years earlier; the costume is now at Bowood in Wiltshire. The finished portrait met with a mixed reception but the essayist and poet Leigh Hunt thought it 'by far the best that has appeared; I mean the best of him at his best time of life, and the most like him in features as well as expression'. This version was painted in about 1835. It is one of the most famous and enduring images of the poet at the height of his fame.

This portrait shows Lord Byron at the age of 25, dressed in a traditional Albanian costume. It is one of the most famous and enduring images of the poet at the height of his fame.

Byron visited Albania in 1809 as part of his grand tour of Europe. He loved the traditional suits he saw while staying at the residence of Albanian ruler Ali Pasha. Byron wrote in a letter to his mother that Albanian costume was ‘the most magnificent in the world’, and bought several suits to send home to Newstead.

This version is a later copy of a portrait made soon after Byron’s return from Europe. The portrait was described by the essayist and poet Leigh Hunt as ‘by far the best that has appeared; I mean the best of him at his best time of life, and the most like him in features as well as expression.’

The original was bought by Lady Judith Noel, Byron's mother-in-law, and hung at her home, Kirkby Hall in Leicestershire. Following the acrimonious separation of Byron and Lady Noel’s daughter, Annabella, it was taken down and shut away in a case. Lady Noel later bequeathed it to Byron and Annabella’s daughter Ada, who had been born only a month before the separation.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 57
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • 100 Writers, p. 53
  • Alexander, Christine (Christine Anne), Celebrating Charlotte Brontë : transforming life into literature in Jane Eyre, 2016, p. 93
  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 63
  • Edited by Lucy Peltz & Louise Stewart, Love Stories: Art, Passion & Tragedy, 2020, p. 60
  • Gibson, Robin, Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, 1996, p. 83
  • Holmes, Richard, The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2013, p. 93
  • Holmes, Richard, Insights: The Romantic Poets and Their Circle, 2005, p. 76
  • Holmes, Richard; Crane, David; Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantics and Revolutionaries: Regency portraits from the National Portrait Gallery, 2002, p. 57
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 63
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 109
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 109 Read entry

    Although this is one of the best-known paintings in the collection, much reproduced, it is in fact a copy by Thomas Phillips from the original he painted in the summer of 1813, which is now in the British Embassy in Athens. Byron had acquired the Albanian costume in 1809 and was clearly pleased to be painted in it for a portrait commissioned by his publisher, John Murray. When it was exhibited the following year at the Royal Academy, Hazlitt wrote that it was 'too smooth, and seems as it were, "barbered ten times o'er" - there is however much that conveys the softness and wildness of character of the popular poet of the East'. Its whiff of the Orient and its air of theatricality are both entirely appropriate to the sitter.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 95
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 126 Read entry

    Famously deemed ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ by Lady Caroline Lamb, the flamboyant Lord Byron was the most painted poet of his generation. With his brooding good looks, charisma and notoriously wild lifestyle, he constructed himself as the ultimate English Romantic hero.

    Byron made his poetic debut with the satirical English Bards and Scotch Reviewers (1809). But it was not until he published the first two cantos of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage (1812) that he achieved critical acclaim and was reported to have remarked, ‘I awoke one morning to find myself famous’. This success was followed by a series of tales inspired by his travels, including The Giaour (1813), and his semi-autobiographical epic satire, Don Juan (1819–23).

    This theatrical portrait by Thomas Phillips (1770– 1845), a copy from the artist’s full-length of 1813, shows the ‘popular poet of the East’ depicted in luxurious Albanian costume. The portrait met with a mixed reception when it was exhibited the following year at the Royal Academy. The portrait likeness was, however, not without its supporters. In 1823, Byron’s play-acting became a reality when he joined the Greek revolutionaries who were fighting the Turks, later dying of fever in Missolonghi.

  • Walker, Richard, Regency Portraits, 1985, p. 79
  • Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 85

Events of 1813back to top

Current affairs

Machine breaking Luddite Riots end with seventeen executions in York. Radical John Cartwright's subsequent tour of the manufacturing districts has some success in quelling Luddite discontent with the foundation of the Hampden reform club network across the country.
East India Company is deprived of monopoly over trade with India.

Art and science

Millenarian prophet Joanna Southcott, made famous by her visions of the second coming of Christ, announces herself 'with child' by the Holy Ghost.
Jane Austen publishes Pride and Prejudice.


Victorious Battle of St Pierre near Bayonne led by General Rowland Hill.
Battle of Leipzig ends in defeat for Napoleon.
Wellington's victory at Vittoria leads to British invasion of Southern France.
Americans capture and burn Toronto, defeat British in Battle of Lake Erie and recapture Detroit.

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