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Henry Purcell

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Henry Purcell

by John Closterman
black chalk heightened with white, 1695
15 in. x 11 1/4 in. (381 mm x 286 mm)
Purchased with help from Private Treaty and the Worshipful Company of Musicians, 1974
Primary Collection
NPG 4994

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The German artist Closterman came to England in 1680. This is his only known portrait drawing, and the earliest drawing of an English composer to survive. The sketch was almost certainly taken from life and at one time belonged to the eighteenth-century musicologist Dr Charles Burney.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • 100 Portraits, p. 39
  • Ingamells, John, Later Stuart Portraits 1685-1714, 2009, p. 231
  • 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. 27
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 508
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 94 Read entry

    Henry Purcell was the pre-eminent composer of the Restoration period and is celebrated as the father of modern music in England. As a child he showed prodigious talent, writing an ode for the birthday of Charles II in 1670. He was appointed Composer in Ordinary to the King aged eighteen, organist of Westminster Abbey at twenty and of the Chapel Royal three years later. He composed music for the coronations of James II in 1685 and William III and Mary II in 1689, and collaborated with the poet John Dryden on music for the theatre. His greatest works are the operas Dido and Aeneas (1689) and The Fairy Queen (1692). He died aged thirty-seven and is buried near the organ at Westminster Abbey.

    This chalk drawing by the German artist John Closterman (1660–1711) was probably made in the final year of Purcell’s life. It is Closterman’s only known portrait sketch and the earliest surviving drawing of an English composer. An oil painting relating to this study is also in the Gallery’s collection (NPG 1352). The drawing once belonged to the music historian Dr Charles Burney.

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Events of 1695back to top

Current affairs

Princess Anne, daughter of James II by Anne Hyde, and now heir apparent to the English throne, returns to court having retired two years previously over William III's dismissal of John Churchill and his wife, Sarah, Anne's closest companion.

Art and science

William Congreve's comical farce, Love for Love, exemplifying the height of Restoration comedy, reopens Lincoln's Inn Theatre with a new actors' company led by actor Thomas Betterton. Its witty, sparking dialogue made it hugely popular with audiences.


William III and Maximilian II Emanuel of Bavaria, commanding the army of the grand alliance, recapture Namur in the Spanish Netherlands from the French. Despite a period of victories, the Netherlands and England begin to struggle financially under the economic strain of the ongoing Nine Years' War.

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