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Charles Burney

1 of 10 portraits of Charles Burney

Charles Burney, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1781 -NPG 3884 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Charles Burney

by Sir Joshua Reynolds
29 1/2 in. x 24 in. (749 mm x 610 mm)
NPG 3884

This portraitback to top

NPG 3884 was the last of the series of portraits commissioned from Reynolds by Henry Thrale for his library at Streatham; it filled ‘the last chasm in the chain of Streatham worthies’ and hung between portraits of Baretti and Burke. [1] Within two months of its completion Thrale had died.
On 4 January 1781 Mrs Thrale wrote that her husband had ordered Burney ‘to sit tomorrow’ and, she added, ‘I shall have the dear Doctor every morning at breakfast. I took ridiculous pains to tutor him to-day, and to insist ... on his forbearing to write or read late this evening, that my picture might not have blood-shot eyes’. [2] On 11 February she wrote that Burney ‘sits for his picture in the Doctor of music’s gown; and Bartolozzi makes an engraving from it to place at the head of the book [the second volume of Burney’s History of Music]. Sir Joshua delights in the portrait, and says ‘twill be the best among [the Library set]’. [3] On 25 February Burney confirmed to his son ‘I have lately sate for my Picture to Sr Jos. Reynolds, for my Friend Mr Thrale (for wch he has 50 Gs)’. [4] It was well received at the Royal Academy and appears to have been criticised only by John Joseph Merlin (from motives of jealousy concerning his own portrait by Gainsborough) [5] and by Samuel Johnson (who grumbled ‘we want to see Burney & he never comes to us in that dress’). [6] Bartolozzi’s plate was subsequently admired, although Burney’s friend Thomas Twining found ‘some unlikeness mixed with it; & it is, I think, principally about the nose’. [7]
Burney also told his son (25 February) that ‘Coz. Ned’ [E. F. Burney] was then ‘making two Copies of my picture, (wch every body says is very like...), one for Padre Martini at Bologna, who has many years been desiring to have my Picture, & another for the Music School at Oxford, at the request of Dr Hayes ...’. [8] Martini’s copy remains in the Civico Museo, Bibliografico Musicale, Bologna, [9] and the Oxford portrait is now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; a third copy by E. F. Burney is in the Yale University Library (Osborn collection), [10] and an unattributed miniature copy on copper remains with family descendants. [11]
A drawing in black and red crayon, the same size as Bartolozzi’s 1784 engraving after NPG 3884, plausibly inscribed in a later hand Drawn by Bartolozzi after Sir J Reynolds, is in the NPG reference collection. [12] Bartolozzi’s plate was used as the frontispiece for some copies of the first volume of Burney’s General History of Music originally published in 1779. [13]

Footnotesback to top

1) K. Balderstone, ed., Thraliana 1942, I, p 475. For the Streatham library portraits see, for example, N. Tscherny, Burl. Mag., CXXVIII, 1986, pp 4-11. A bibliography is provided in A. Ribeiro ed., The Letters of Dr Charles Burney, I, 1751-1784, 1991, p 321n21.
2) Mrs Thrale to Fanny Burney, Streatham, 4 January 1781; Diary and Letters of Madame d’Arblay, II, 1842, pp 5-6; see also C. R. Leslie and T. Taylor, Life and Times of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1865, II, p 313; A. Ribeiro ed., The Letters of Dr Charles Burney, I, 1751-1784, 1991, p 321n19.
3) C. Barrett ed., Diary & Letters of Madame D’Arblay, 1904, I, p 459.
4) A. Ribeiro ed., The Letters of Dr Charles Burney, I, 1751-1784, 1991, pp 321-22. The Reynolds ledgers show that Mrs Thrale paid 35 gn. for the portrait (M. Cormack, 'The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds', Wal. Soc., XLII, 1970, p 164).
5) See C. Carrett ed., Diary & Letters of Madame D’Arblay, 1904, I, p 505; John Joseph Merlin, Kenwood, 1985, pp 33-35.
6) A. Ribeiro ed., The Letters of Dr Charles Burney, I, 1751-1784, 1991, p 321n27.
7) To Charles Burney, 12 November 1784 (A. Ribeiro ed., The Letters of Dr Charles Burney, I, 1751-1784, 1991, p 411n3).
8) A. Ribeiro ed., The Letters of Dr Charles Burney, I, 1751-1784, 1991, pp 321-22.
9) Illus. P. Scholes, The Great Dr Burney, 1948, I, front.
10) Burney sale, Christie’s, 20 June 1930, lot 123 as E. F. Burney after Reynolds, the attribution accepted by E. K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, 1941, p 72. Offered to the NPG in 1933. Illus. K. Chisholm, Fanny Burney, 1999, f.p.108.
11) For these copies, see D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, I, 2000, nos.290a-d, and A. Ribeiro ed., The Letters of Dr Charles Burney, I, 1751-1784, 1991, pp 321-22nn19, 26, 28, 29.
12) NPG Burney Diaries, 1, III, front.
13) See R. Lonsdale, Dr Charles Burney, 1965, p 493.

Physical descriptionback to top

Blue eyes, powdered hair, wearing the Oxford Doctor of Music gown of cream damask with red hood and facings, over a black suit.

Provenanceback to top

Commissioned by Henry Thrale for his library at Streatham; Mrs Piozzi sale, Squibb, 10 May 1816, lot 66, bought Charles Burney, the sitter’s son; by descent to J. C. Burney-Cumming, from whom purchased 1953.

Exhibitionsback to top

RA 1781 (16); British Institution 1813 (118); British Institution 1848 (116); Second special exhibition of National Portraits (William and Mary to MDCCC), South Kensington, 1867 (690); RA 1877 (116); Boswell, NPG, 1967 (66); The Eye of Thomas Jefferson, National Gallery Washington, 1976 (70); Johnson, Arts Council, 1984 (56); John Joseph Merlin, Kenwood, 1985 (A2); Norfolk and the Grand Tour, Norwich, 1985 (107); Reynolds, RA, 1986 (125).

Reproductionsback to top

F. Bartolozzi 1784; J. Owen 1798 (head only; Public Characters of 1798-99); S. W. Reynolds; H. Adlard; J. Scott 1878.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, National Portrait Gallery, 2004, 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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