1 of 36 portraits of Lord Byron
- Extended catalogue entry
Regency Portraits Catalogue
by Richard Westall
36 in. x 28 in. (914 mm x 711 mm)
Inscriptionback to top
Inscribed on the rock at top right indistinctly: Gordon Lord Byron/Painted by/Richd Westall, R.A./1813 (last two numerals almost illegible).
This portraitback to top
Richard Westall died in 1836 and was known less for portraits (of which however he exhibited over 60 at the RA between 1784 and 1836) than as an illustrator and water-colourist. His portrait of Byron relates more closely to the 'Ecce Homo' at All Souls' Langham Place than to the poet's accepted iconography but was much copied and adapted both by himself and by other artists. He was employed by Murray to illustrate the 1819 edition of Childe Harold and on 21 April 1813 Byron wrote to Murray that 'I shall be in town on Sunday next & will call & have some conversation on the subject of Westall's proposed designs. - I am to sit to him for a picture at the request of a friend of mine & - as Sanders's is not a good one you will probably prefer the other' (Byron's Letters & Journals, ed. Leslie Marchand, III, p 41). The identity of the friend is uncertain. Marchand suggests Lady Oxford but a more likely possibility is Sir Francis Burdett, at that time a member of the Byron circle and whose daughter, Angela Baroness Burdett-Coutts, probably inherited the portrait and certainly owned it in 1891.
X-ray photography has revealed that the present shirt collar to the right is an alteration and that originally the collar followed the line above the cameo brooch and fell over the collar of his crimson coat. The original Westall portrait is likely to have been the much more realistic image engraved by Blood for The European Magazine, 1 February 1814. Here Byron is fashionably dressed in a high white neckcloth and cravat and with a more sombre unromantic expression of which Byron himself wrote: `I happen to know this portrait was not a flatterer, but dark and stern - even as black as the mood in which my mind was scorching last July when I sat for it' (Byron's Letters & Journals, ed. Leslie Marchand, III, p 224, though Marchand believes this to have been the Holmes miniature). A drawing is at Melbourne Hall.
A version at Hughenden, signed and dated 1813 along the bottom edge, has the same head but a totally different body. A later made-up version, with the same head but different costume, is reproduced in Joseph Braddock, The Greek Phoenix, 1972.
Physical descriptionback to top
Half-length seated in profile to left aged 25, his chin resting on right hand, elbow on a boulder; brown eye(s) looking straight ahead as opposed to upwards in NPG 1047; curly black hair with brown lights, fresh pink (not pale) complexion, no ear-lobe; open-necked white shirt fastened with cameo brooch, white waistcoat, crimson coat, black cloak; rock background with mountain landscape left and stormy sky top left. Stretcher stencilled: (top) Baroness Burdett-Coutts, (bottom) (961) R. Westall.
Provenanceback to top
Probably Sir Francis Burdett but first recorded in 1891 in the collection of his daughter Baroness Burdett-Coutts; Christie's (Burdett-Coutts sale) 4 May 1922 (80) bought Vicars; Crabbet Park (Lady Wentworth) but not in the Crabbet Park sale on 24-5 November 1959; Gladstone E. Moore, Lady Wentworth's agent, and sold by him to the NPG in December 1961 (see NPG Annual Report 1961-2, p 12).
Exhibitionsback to top
Either this portrait, NPG 1047, or the Hughenden version signed and dated 1813 was in RA 1825 (41); Guelph Exhibition, New Gallery, 1891 (213) lent by Baroness Burdett-Coutts.
Reproductionsback to top
Westall objected to the portrait being engraved (see Byron's letter to Ashaw 14 December 1813, Byron's Letters & Journals, ed. Leslie Marchand, III, p 198) but nevertheless it became a popular print, its first appearance being Blood's stipple in The European Magazine, 1 February 1814. This was replaced almost immediately by the romanticised images in Turner's mezzotint published 20 May 1814 and 15 July 1815 (Alfred Whitman, Charles Turner, 1907, 87). Later issues were a line engraving by Grave, 1 February 1825, stipples by H. Robinson for Jerdan's National Portrait Gallery, 1829, by Bain of Edinburgh, and a lithograph by Maurin printed in Paris (and by Rembrandt Peale, Baltimore 1825) with figure in reverse, elbow on Childe Harold and naval battle in background - a memorial picture with title Lord Byron La Grece Reconnaissante.
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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