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Thomas Hollis

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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Thomas Hollis

by Joseph Wilton
marble bust, circa 1762
26 in. (660 mm) high
Purchased with help from the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Art Fund (with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation) and the Portrait Fund, 2012
Primary Collection
NPG 6946

Sitterback to top

  • Thomas Hollis (1720-1774), Libertarian, writer, bibliophile and patron of the arts. Sitter in 3 portraits.

Artistback to top

  • Joseph Wilton (1722-1803), Sculptor. Artist or producer associated with 7 portraits, Sitter in 9 portraits.

This portraitback to top

Wilton's depiction of his friend Hollis naked and bare-headed shows the influence of Imperial Roman sculpture. The 'liberty' cap and 'Brutus' daggers emblems on the plinth were repeatedly used by Hollis to represent resistance to tyranny.

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 108 Read entry

    The writer, publisher and free-thinker Thomas Hollis promoted civil rights in Britain and America. Inspired by the republican heroes of ancient Rome, Hollis stood against corruption, defended the freedom of the press and tried to encourage wider participation in politics. Usually acting anonymously, he published and distributed books and pamphlets that promoted liberty and was an important British supporter of the American colonists, corresponding with the ‘Founding Fathers’.

    This bust, by his friend Joseph Wilton (1722–1803), captures Hollis’s democratic principles and devotion to the classical past as the foundation of his ideology. In a style of representation that evokes the busts of ancient Rome, Hollis is depicted bare-chested, and without a wig. This austere simplicity shows off the beauty of Wilton’s carving, and the delicately moulded features and wry half-smile give this marble portrait an unusual intimacy. The only embellishments are the emblems on the plinth: the ‘liberty’ cap and the ‘Brutus’ daggers that represent resistance to tyranny. These were two of Hollis’s favourite motifs and he embossed them on the lavish bindings of many of the political texts that he circulated to libraries and individuals in England and America.

Subject/Themeback to top

Events of 1762back to top

Current affairs

Birth of George, Prince of Wales (later George IV) on 12 August.
Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle resigns as Prime Minister over foreign policy and is succeeded by the Tory John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute. Many of Newcastle's followers are dismissed over the following months in what becomes popularly known as the 'Massacre of the Pelhamite Innocents'.
'Cock Lane ghost' appears in Smithfield, London.

Art and science

James MacPherson publishes Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem, said to be the work of the third century Scottish bard Ossian, initiating the greatest literary hoax of the century.
Sign-Painters Exhibition is organised in London by Bonnell Thornton to ridicule recently established public art exhibitions.
Artist William Hogarth publishes The Times Plate 1; an anti-war satire.


Philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau publishes his major works The Social Contract and Emile; influential treatises on society and education. Peter III of Russia is reputedly assassinated as a result of a conspiracy led by his wife Catherine, who succeeds him to the throne as Catherine II (later the Great).
Seven Years' War: The British commander John Manners Marquess of Granby distinguishes himself at the Battle of Manila.

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