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Alexander Pope

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Alexander Pope

by Jonathan Richardson
oil on canvas, circa 1737
24 1/8 in. x 18 in. (613 mm x 457 mm)
Given by Alfred Aaron de Pass, 1898
Primary Collection
NPG 1179

Sitterback to top

  • Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Poet. Sitter associated with 46 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Jonathan Richardson (1667-1745), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 125 portraits, Sitter in 8 portraits.

This portraitback to top

In a rococo frame of unusual design, perhaps originally intended for a pastel. 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).

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • 100 Writers, p. 39
  • Kerslake, John, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, p. 214
  • Pointon, Marcia, Hanging the head : portraiture and social formation in eighteenth-¿century England, 1993, p. 107 number 121
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 90
  • Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 90 Read entry

    This highly evocative profile portrait of the great Augustan poet Alexander Pope shows him as he appeared towards the end of his life: physically crippled, with a face that had been ravaged by illness, but as a poet immortal. Pope was himself interested in painting and sat to almost all the major artists active during his lifetime, including Charles Jervas, from whom he took painting lessons in 1713, and Jonathan Richardson, whom he had known for at least a decade before Richardson painted this portrait and whom he assisted in the preparation of a commentary on Milton's Paradise Lost, published in 1735. It is a great portrait. As David Piper has written of Pope's fascination with images of himself, 'Vanity was intensified by the need to rectify the tragic twisted relaity of his crippled body with an image worthy of the lucid beautifully articulated construction and spirit of his poetry - the need very literally to put the image straight.'

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 500
  • 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. 64, 158 Read entry

    Carved and gilt pine, mitred and keyed, the flat background areas sanded, the incised panels worked in the gesso, the C- and S-scrolls slightly concave and perhaps originally burnished, the frame regilt with consequent loss of detailing, the rebate enlarged at left and right to take a larger picture than the present one. 3 1⁄ 2 inches wide.

    This remarkable rococo frame with its shell crested top, dominant C- and S-scrolls and sides ornamented with water rushes and rocaille ornament, is a powerful but rather uncomfortable design. The frame might seem to have been carefully chosen to suit the subject, with the leaves of the rushes echoing Alexander Pope's bay wreath; it is, however, not original to the picture, and may date to about 1750.

    Very similar to the Alexander Pope, but of higher quality, are the frames on a set of five pastels by William Hoare, size twenty-four by seventeen inches, from Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire, sold at Sotheby's, 24 May 1933, lots 48-52, of which the portrait of Sir Watkin Williams Wynn is now in the National Museum of Wales. The pattern may have originated as a de luxe frame for pastels which in the mid-eighteenth century were often given exceptionally rich frames. So unusual is this particular design that the portrait of Pope was once shown at the National Portrait Gallery with its frame upside down, giving it a remarkable top-heaviness.

  • Woof, Robert; Hebron, Stephen, Romantic Icons, 1999, p. 3

Events of 1737back to top

Current affairs

Death of Queen Caroline, wife of George II, on 20 November.
Frederick, Prince of Wales quarrels with his father. The king expels him from court for criticising the government.
Theatrical Licensing Act introduces censorship, requiring plays to be submitted to the Lord Chancellor for approval and reducing the number of theatres.

Art and science

French portrait-painter Jean-Baptiste Van Loo arrives in England where he soon attracts prominent sitters such as Robert Walpole, Colley Cibber and William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield.
Venus passes in front of Mercury and is witnessed by amateur astronomer John Bevis at the Royal Greenwich Observatory. It remains the only such planetary occlusion that has been directly observed.


Colonist William Byrd founds Richmond, Virginia.
French Académie Royale de Peintre et de Sculpture begins its programme of public exhibitions.
Florence loses her independence when the last Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany dies.

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