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Samuel Pepys

1 of 12 portraits of Samuel Pepys

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Samuel Pepys

by John Hayls
oil on canvas, 1666
29 3/4 in. x 24 3/4 in. (756 mm x 629 mm)
Purchased, 1866
Primary Collection
NPG 211


Pepys took a great interest in all matters af…

Sitterback to top

  • Samuel Pepys (1633-1703), Diarist and naval administrator. Sitter in 12 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • John Hayls (1600?-1679), Artist. Artist or producer associated with 7 portraits, Sitter in 1 portrait.

This portraitback to top

In his diary, Pepys records on 17 March 1666: 'I sit to have it full of shadows and so almost break my neck looking over my shoulders to make the posture for him to work by'. There were more sittings on 20, 23, 28 and 30 March, when he sat 'till almost quite darke upon working my gowne which I hired to be drawne in; an Indian gowne'. Pepys paid Hayls £14 for the picture and 25s for the frame on 16 May, commenting that he was 'well satisfied' with it. The music he holds is his own setting of a lyric by Sir William Davenant, 'Beauty, retire'.
This portrait was sold at auction in 1848 as a ‘Portrait of a Musician’. However, the man who purchased it, Peter Cunningham, quickly identified it as Samuel Pepys. This was based on its ownership history (it had been sold by descendants of Pepys), and the identification of the sheet music as one of Pepys’s own settings. Cunningham offered the portrait to the Gallery for £200 – apparently much more than he had paid for it – but it was declined due to doubts about the identity of the sitter and concerns about the high price.
The portrait was offered to the Gallery again in 1865 by its new owner Robert Cooke. Cooke enclosed in his offer letter the extracts from Pepys’s diary in which he related sitting for the portrait: ‘I... do almost break my neck, looking over my shoulder to make the posture for him to work by’. Cooke’s asking price was much lower, and the portrait was accepted into the Collection.
In his own lifetime Pepys gained renown as a high-ranking naval administrator. It wasn’t until the nineteenth century that his diary came to prominence in English literature, when the shorthand was deciphered by a Cambridge undergraduate, leading to its partial publication 1815. It wasn’t published in full until 1983. In the diary, Pepys records that he made of the sittings for this portrait into occasions for merry making and music, and that “the picture goes on the better for it”.

Related worksback to top

  • NPG D18073: Diploma of membership of the Samuel Pepys Club for Sir Edmund Gosse (after)
  • NPG D48933: Samuel Pepys (after)

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 33
  • Audio Guide
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • The British Portrait, 1660-1960, 1991, p. 101 number 88
  • The British Portrait, 1660-1960, 1991, p. 20 number 11
  • 100 Writers, p. 30
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 23 Read entry

    The costs of this famous portrait and the discomforts of sitting for it are recorded in Pepys’s diary: £14 for the painting and 25 shillings (£1.25) for the frame, ‘and so almost break my neck looking over my shoulders to make the posture for him to work by’.

  • Cooper, John, Visitor's Guide, 2000, p. 39
  • Dodd, Christopher, Unto the tideway born, 2015, p. 69
  • Foskett, Daphne, Samuel Cooper, 1974 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 15 March - 15 June 1974), p. 124
  • Ingamells, John, Later Stuart Portraits 1685-1714, 2009, p. 211
  • John Cooper, National Portrait Gallery Visitor's Guide, 2006, p. 39
  • Ollard, Richard, Character Sketches: Samuel Pepys and His Circle, 2000, p. 4
  • Ollard, Richard, Pepys and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 5
  • Perry, Gill (introduction) Roach, Joseph (appreciation) and West, Shearer (appreciation), The First Actresses: Nell Gwyn to Sarah Siddons, 2011 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 20 October 2011 to 8 January 2012), p. 66
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 104
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 12
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 17
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 68
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 69 Read entry

    This is one of the most important portraits in the collection, not in artistic terms but because Pepys is so significant historically and because the circumstances in which the portrait was painted are recorded in his diary. John Hayls painted Mrs Pepys in February 1666. On 17 March 1666, Pepys had his first sitting and recorded how 'I sit to have it full of shadows and do almost break my neck looking over my shoulders to make the posture for him to work by.' By the end of the month, Hayls was working on the Indian gown Pepys had specially hired, and on 11 April he was painting the page of music Pepys holds in his hands and which 'pleases me mightily, it being painted true'. On 16 May Pepys paid Hayls £14 for the picture and 25 shillings for the frame. He wrote, 'I am very well satisfied in my pictures and so took them in another coach home along with me, and there with great pleasure my wife and I hung them up, and that being done, so to dinner.' The portrait shows Pepys as he was, a rising man of affairs, with social pretensions but also with an engaging honesty.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 488
  • 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. 120, 154 Read entry

    Carved and silvered pine, mitred, partly resilvered. 4 inches wide.

    As recorded in his diaries and correspondence, Samuel Pepys took a great interest in all matters affecting the appearance of his apartments, and this concern extended to picture framing. This portrait was painted for him by John Hayls in 1666 for £14, and Pepys paid an additional twenty-five shillings for the frame on 16 May. Many of Pepys's books and frames were damaged in the Great Fire of London later the same year, and in his diary on 19 September he lamented the loss of some of his books, adding, 'Most of my gilt frames are hurt, which also troubles me, but most my books'.

    This type of bunched leaf frame can be seen on all the portraits in a drawing of Pepys's library of c.1693. Silvered frames of this kind were common at the period and were lacquered to give them the appearance of having been gilded, and to prevent them from tarnishing. The surface of the frame has suffered over the years; it was partly regilded in 1881 and 1895, and in 1956 the peeling gilding was cleaned off down to the original silver surface, damaged areas were resilvered and the frame finished in a clear coat of lacquer. Despite some loss of detailing the frame is close to that depicted in Pepys's library and may be the original.

  • Tremain, Rose (essay), BP Portrait Award 2010, 2010 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 24 June to 19 September 2010), p. 7
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 89 Read entry

    Samuel Pepys was an important naval administrator, but he is best known for his Diary, an extraordinary record of his life in Restoration London. Lively, intimate and full of fascinating detail, it begins in 1660 and it ends nine years later when the author believed (mistakenly) that he was going blind. As well as chronicling the minutiae of his everyday life, it includes eye-witness accounts of important historical events, such as the Great Plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London of 1666. Pepys records not only his visit to inform King Charles II about the fire, but also the burial of his precious cheese in his garden to save it from burning.

    Pepys described in his Diary the process of sitting for this portrait by John Hayls (c.1600–79), writing on 17 March 1666 that ‘I sit to have it full of shadows and do almost break my neck looking over my shoulders to make the posture for him to work by.’ His gown was hired especially for this portrait, and the music he holds is his own composition, a setting of a poem by William Davenant, ‘Beauty, Retire’.

  • Waterhouse, Ellis Kirkham, The dictionary of 16th & 17th century British painters, 1988, p. 118

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1666back to top

Current affairs

The Great Fire of London starts in a baker's shop in Pudding Lane, destroying two-thirds of the city. Charles II and James, Duke of York personally direct and manually assist with the fire-fighting effort. Thousands are left homeless, though few people die.

Art and science

Mathematical scientist, Isaac Newton, formulates a series of groundbreaking theories concerning light, colour, calculus, and, after supposedly watching an apple fall from a tree, the universal law of gravitation.
Nicholas Lanier, Master of the King's Music dies and Frenchman Louis Grabu is appointed the post.


The Four Days' Battle. Dutch navy led by Admiral Michiel de Ruyter attacks the English fleet under George Monck, Duke of Albemarle, now Joint- Commander-in-Chief with Prince Rupert. Outcome of the battle is indecisive, though England loses twice as many men and ships, severely damaging the fleet.

Tell us more back to top

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Justin Reay

23 October 2018, 17:32

The robe Pepys chose to be depicted in is of silk satin, called 'Indian' in his diary entries for March 1666, but likely to be Turkish or Persian in origin. The looseness and informality of the gown and of the linen sleeves and cravat add to his depiction as an artist (musician), rather than as the senior civil servant and confidante of the King he had become by this date, for which a more elaborate, close fitting "suit" of a coat, waistcoat and tight lace cravat would have been appropriate.

Teresa Ferguson

28 March 2016, 02:30

About the velvet coat he's wearing in the portrait. From Samuel Pepys's diary entry of 25 August 1660: (Guthenberg project so free to public) 'This night W. Hewer brought me home from Mr. Pim's my velvet coat and cap, the first that ever I had.'

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