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Thomas Bewick

Thomas Bewick, by James Ramsay, 1823 -NPG 319 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

Thomas Bewick

by James Ramsay
29 1/2 in. x 24 1/2 in. (749 mm x 622 mm)
NPG 319

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed and dated in flowing script on back of relined canvas: Mr Thoss Bewick/painted by Js Ramsay./1823 (tracing in registered packet in NPG archive 319).

This portraitback to top

James Ramsay had connections with Newcastle where he died in 1854 (see Marshall Hall, The Artists of Northumbria, 1982, p 140). He painted several portraits of his fellow-citizen Thomas Bewick who approved of them: 'I think Mr Ramsay's Portraits one & all are the best that ever were done - he gives the Character as well as the likeness so correctly that they look like the person alive - they ought indeed not to be called likenesses but Fac similes' (letter 12 December 1815 cit. by Bain in Memoir, p xxiv).
(1) Oil in Natural History Society of Northumbria, Newcastle, half-length seated with a copy of his British Birds vol.II, exhibited RA 1816(3) and engraved by Burnet published 25 October 1817, given by the artist to Mrs Bewick in 1820 and by bequest to Natural History Society of Northumbria 1881; a later vignette by H. H. Meyer published by Pearson and used as frontispiece to Catalogue of Edwin Pearson's Collection, 1868, was annotated by his daughter Isabella: 'a good likeness/Isa – 1881’ (reproduced Iain Bain, Thomas Bewick: an Illustrated Record of his Life and Work, 1979, p 110).
(2) Oil in NPG (319); this is clearly dated 1823 and may have been the picture exhibited RA 1823 (381) as 'Portrait of Mr Bewick, the celebrated engraver on wood'; it may also have been the portrait mentioned by William Bewick as 'for sale at a gentleman's house near Durham and bought by the rector of this parish [Darlington]. It is a fine portrait, size of life, painted by James Ramsay for a friend of Mr Bewick of the name of Scruton, of Durham. Had I been able to go to the sale the picture would no doubt have been mine' (letter of 28 April 1864 quoted in Charles Landseer, Life of William Bewick, II, p 235).
(3) Oil on wood panel formerly in the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, whole-length standing on a country road by the Tyne, stated by Robert Robinson, Thomas Bewick: his life and Times, 1887, p 272 and D. C. Thomson, Life and Works of Thomas Bewick, 1882, p 223 to have been painted in 1823; perhaps this was the portrait exhibited RA 1823 (381) though in view of the inscription and date on NPG 319 there is some doubt. Ramsay also exhibited RA 1823 (278) 'The Lost Child' in which the same figure of Bewick appears among a group of prominent Newcastle citizens; 'The Lost Child' is in the Pease Collection, Newcastle Central Library; the portrait was engraved later by Bacon 1852.
(4) Head in Literary and Philosophical Society, Newcastle (D. C. Thomson, Life and Works of Thomas Bewick, 1882, p 223), perhaps by Robert Dodds (Marshall Hall, The Artists of Northumbria, 1982, p 59).
(5) Head in Bewick House, Gateshead (D. C. Thomson, Life and Works of Thomas Bewick, 1882, p 223).

Physical descriptionback to top

Head and shoulders seated in red-upholstered chair, black coat, white neckcloth; white hair, clear brown eyes, fresh complexion.

Provenanceback to top

Bought February 1871 from Christie's (not in sale).

Exhibitionsback to top

Perhaps RA 1823 (381); 'Bicentenary of Bewick', Bethnal Green, 1953 (1); 'The Genius of Bewick', Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle and Yale Center for British Art, 1978.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, and is as published then. For the most up-to-date details on individual Collection works, we recommend reading the information provided in the Search the Collection results on this website in parallel with this text.

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