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Alexander Pope

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Alexander Pope

by William Hoare
pastel, circa 1739
23 7/8 in. x 17 3/4 in. (602 mm x 449 mm)
Bequeathed by Charles Townsend, 1870
Primary Collection
NPG 299


This frame is original to the portrait. It is…

Sitterback to top

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

Artistback to top

  • William Hoare (1707-1792), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 74 portraits, Sitter in 6 portraits.

This portraitback to top

The power of portraits to promote celebrity led many sitters to try to control their image. The poet Alexander Pope suffered from curvature of the spine, probably caused by Pott's disease. Hoare's son told the diarist Joseph Farrington how 'when Pope sat to His Father for a Portrait, he showed anxiety to conceal the deformity of his person, & had a cloak thrown over his shoulders, & when Mr. Hoare was painting that part of the picture He came behind Him & said 'He need not be very particular about the Shoulders'. It is likely that Pope sat to Hoare in his newly-established studio in Bath during a visit in 1739. 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).

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Kerslake, John, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, p. 214
  • 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. 93, 161 Read entry

    Carved and gilt pine, mitred and keyed, the ground extensively cross-hatched, the back edge worked in the gesso in the same manner as the portrait of Handel (NPG 3970). 5 inches wide at the centre.

    Hoare's pastel of Alexander Pope is difficult to date securely. The artist first painted Pope in oils in 1740 but produced other versions at a later date to satisfy the considerable demand for Pope's portrait.1 Whatever the date of the pastel, this frame is a good example of the extravagant rococo frame type of French origin that Hoare used on many of his pastels of the 1750s and 1760s, occasionally on his oils, and even for prints.2 A very similar frame can be found on François Boucher's oil of 1758, Madame de Pompadour, in the Jones collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Hoare also used a Maratta type frame at the same period (see NPG 757).

    At the National Portrait Gallery in 1921 the rococo frame on NPG 299 was removed from the pastel and swapped for the Maratta frame on John Russell's portrait of R. B. Sheridan.3 The swap was reversed in 1993 so that once again both portraits are in the original frames chosen by their artists.

    1 This portrait type is discussed by W. K. Wimsatt, The Portraits of Alexander Pope, New Haven and London, 1965, pp 279-98, and especially pp 287-9. See also John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, pp 214-17. The National Portrait Gallery's portrait bears an inscription on the back by Hoare with the owner's name and the date 1784, but Kerslake suggests that it may have been drawn many years earlier and then kept to hand by Hoare as a model.

    2 Examples of the frame type can be found on the pastel of an unknown lady (Victoria and Albert Museum, P.37-1936), a set of pastels of the Four Seasons (Christie's, 19 November 1985, lot 195, reproduced), an oil of Mr Vann (Deene Park, photograph in National Portrait Gallery Archive) and a mezzotint of the Earl of Chatham after Hoare (Chevening).

    3 National Portrait Gallery Archive, Duplicate of Accounts, vol.VIII, p 128, 'Refitting & pasting up 2 pastels Sheridan and Pope', 17 May 1921. An old photograph provides further evidence as to the framing of the Sheridan pastel before 1921.

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1739back to top

Current affairs

Foundling Hospital is established in London by sea-captain Thomas Coram, with William Hogarth as a founding governor.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, begins his campaign of outdoor preaching, which he continues until his death in 1791.
'Great Frost': an unusually harsh winter in southern England.

Art and science

Philosopher David Hume anonymously publishes his Treatise of Human Nature, in which he applies the principles of experimental science to the human mind.


War of Jenkin's Ear: Convention of Pardo is held to settle differences with Spain, but Prime Minister Robert Walpole is forced to declare hostilities. At the Battle of Porto Bello, British forces under Admiral Edward Vernon capture the Panamanian town of Porto Bello from the Spanish.
Persian ruler Nadir Shah enters Delhi and removes much of the accumulated treasure of the Mughal empire.

Tell us more back to top

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Martyn Sutton

28 April 2018, 16:15

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appears to have been familiar with this portrait when he wrote the short story 'Uncle Jeremy's Household', in 1885, which was serialised in 'Boy's Own Paper' in 1887. He describes the title character as 'He wore a cotton cloth tied round his head in the fashion of Pope and other eighteenth century celebrities'.

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