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William Cowper

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William Cowper

by George Romney
pastel, 1792
22 1/2 in. x 18 1/2 in. (572 mm x 470 mm)
Purchased, 1905
Primary Collection
NPG 1423

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

  • George Romney (1734-1802), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 162 portraits, Sitter in 5 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Cowper sat for this portrait at the house of the poet William Hayley, who was a friend of the artist Romney. Hayley wrote a posthumous biography of Cowper.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Ingamells, John, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p. 128
  • Kidson, Alex, George Romney 1734-1802, 2002 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 30 May - 18 August 2002), p. 221
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 163
  • Rogers, Malcolm, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, 1993 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 August to 23 October 1994), p. 73
  • Ross, Josephine, Jane Austen and her World, 2017, p. 73
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 107
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 107 Read entry

    William Hayley, who was always keen to act as patron of artists and men of letters, met the poet William Cowper in May 1792. He immediately wished to have their friendship recorded by George Romney, when Romney next came to stay at his house at Eartham near Chichester. Hayley himself describes in his Life of George Romney how 'Romney was eager to execute a portrait of a person so memorable, and in drawing it he was particularly desirous of making the nearest approach to life, that he possibly could: for this purpose he chose to make use of coloured crayons, a mode of painting in which he had indeed little experience ... He worked with uncommon diligence, zeal, and success, producing a resemblance so powerful, that spectators who contemplated the portrait with the original by its side, thought it hardly possible for any similitude to be more striking, or more exact.' It is indeed an extraordinarily powerful image, strongly suggestive of Cowper's slight diffidence and imaginative intensity.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 149
  • Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 19

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Subject/Themeback to top

Events of 1792back to top

Current affairs

The famous seven year trial of Warren Hastings, Governor-General of Bengal, on charges of embezzlement and murder, ends with his acquittal. Pro-Revolutionary philosopher Joseph Priestley's house is destroyed by a mob on the anniversary of the fall of the Bastille. Their actions are later seen as a key moment in the defeat of Enlightenment ideals in England.

Art and science

Mary Wollstonecraft publishes A Vindication of the Rights of Woman; a radical work which called on women to be allies to one another; fearless in their support and free in their criticism.
Sir Joshua Reynolds dies and is succeeded by Benjamin West as President of the Royal Academy.

International

The mob invades the Tuileries and the French Royal Family is imprisoned marking the end of France's experiment with constitutional monarchy and the declaration of the first French Republic.
The Revolutionary Commune is established in Paris.
France declares war on Austria and then Prussia.

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Jane Harbord

03 October 2018, 05:57

Could anyone shed light on the headdress worn in the portrait please?

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