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Jacob Tonson I

1 of 5 portraits of Jacob Tonson I

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Jacob Tonson I

by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
oil on canvas, 1717
36 in. x 28 in. (914 mm x 711 mm)
Given by the Art Fund, 1945
Primary Collection
NPG 3230

Sitterback to top

  • Jacob Tonson I (1655-1736), Publisher; Secretary of the Kit-cat Club. Sitter in 5 portraits, Artist associated with 6 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt (1646-1723), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 1686 portraits, Sitter associated with 30 portraits.

Related worksback to top

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • The British Portrait, 1660-1960, 1991, p. 98 number 18
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 28 Read entry

    This is one of forty-one Kit-cat Club pictures framed as a set of architectural, or ‘architrave’, frames costing two guineas each. The set, after 1704, was hung at Tonson’s Barn Elms House.

  • Ingamells, John, Later Stuart Portraits 1685-1714, 2009, p. 292
  • Piper, David, The English Face, 1992, p. 111
  • Pointon, Marcia, Hanging the head : portraiture and social formation in eighteenth-¿century England, 1993, p. 128 number 151
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 619
  • Schama, Simon, The Face of Britain: The Nation Through its Portraits, 2015-09-15, p. 78
  • 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. 124, 156 Read entry

    Carved and gilt pine, mitred and keyed, the flat roughly sanded, the top and bottom corner projections planted, the cresting of scrolling foliage on a fish-scale ground, the bottom tablet in the rococo style, conceivably a later addition, inscribed MR JACOB TONSON SENR. 3 7⁄ 8 inches wide (8 1⁄ 4 inches with the top cresting).

    One of a set of forty-one identical architectural or 'architrave' frames in the Kent style made for the Kit-cat Club by Gerrard Howard, the King's framemaker, in 1733 at a cost of two guineas each. On 23 September Howard charged Jacob Tonson junior £84: 'for forty Kitt Catts Archetrive frames, Carv'd and guilt with gold to pictures by Sr Godfrey Kneller'. The bill is marked 'one not deliver'd', but the order was presumably subsequently completed because the account, which covers the period from 19 January to 30 October 1733, was paid in full on 20 January 1734. The bill also includes under 30 October 1733 a charge of £1.15s 'for a Archetrive frame Carvd and guilt with gold to Sr Godfrey Kneller picture by himself (presumably the small self-portrait which came with the Kit-cat portraits to the National Portrait Gallery) and a charge of £3.3s 'for 2 kit Catts Archetrive in gold not Delivr'd' (that is, presumably, not delivered on 23 September but subsequently supplied). The bill also includes references to 'drive up frames', that is stretchers for the canvases.

    The members of the Kit-cat Club, a Whig political dining club, had their portraits painted by Kneller for presentation to the club secretary, the publisher Jacob Tonson senior, over a period of more than twenty years from about 1697. Contrary to what is sometimes said, there is no evidence as to how they were originally framed or displayed, or indeed if they were framed at all, but when Tonson's nephew, Jacob Tonson junior, received the portraits he determined to rehouse them in a new pavilion adjacent to his house at Barn Elms on the Thames at Barnes. Tonson junior employed as his architect Henry Joynes, Clerk of the Works at Kensington Palace, who used various Office of Works craftsmen to build the new pavilion, and it was perhaps through Joynes that Howard came to be employed on the frames. A contemporary record of how the pictures were arranged at Barn Elms shows a double hang almost throughout. Most of the portraits are double hung to this day, half of them at the National Portrait Gallery and the others at Beningbrough Hall, Yorkshire.

Events of 1717back to top

Current affairs

Count Carl Gyllenborg, the Swedish ambassador, is arrested in London and imprisoned over a plot to assist the Pretender James Stuart.
Bangorian controversy; a theological argument within the Church of England is initiated by the posthumous publication of a treatise written by George Hicks, Bishop of Thetford.
First Freemason's Grand Lodge is founded in London.

Art and science

Actor-manager Colley Cibber stages The Loves of Mars and Venus at the Drury Lane Theatre; the first ballet to be performed in Britain.
Composer George Frideric Handel's Water Music is performed for the first time on a barge on the River Thames for George I.


John Law establishes the Mississippi Company to develop trade in Louisiania for France. His scheme results in the 'Mississippi Bubble'.
Triple Alliance formed between England, France and the Dutch Republic to uphold the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht and maintain peace in Europe.
Competition between British and Dutch in factories on the coast of Mauritania results in the first 'gum war' over the lucrative trade in gum arabic.

Tell us more back to top

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Sarah Hyde

21 October 2021, 17:48

The significance of this group of portraits is really in Jacob Tonson's profound understanding of power by association and in many ways his idea of showing his powerful friends anticipated social media platforms.

Stephen Pollock-Hill.

09 March 2020, 16:56

As The portraits belonged to the Kit Kat Club, and Jacob Tonson I was the secretary, they ended up in his possession.
He left them to his daughter Mary, who married a wealthy landowner on Hertfordshire Sir William Baker. He was a Director of the East India Company, and later of the Hudson Bay company He owned a large Grade II* country house outside Hertford , Bayfordbury, and built on two new wings, one of which was to house all the portraits.

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