John Clare

John Clare, by William Hilton, circa 1820-1821 -NPG 1469 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

John Clare

by William Hilton
circa 1820-1821
30 in. x 25 in. (762 mm x 635 mm)
NPG 1469

This portraitback to top

The portrait was probably commissioned by John Taylor, the editor and publisher of Clare's poems and finally his trustee, though Martin (Frederick Martin, Life of John Clare, 1865, p 88) suggests it might have been arranged by Clare's patron in Stamford, the grocer Octavius Gilchrist. However later in the book (p 217) Martin says it was paid for by Taylor and hung in his parlour in Russell Square together with the bust by Behnes. It was bought by Clare's biographer Frederick Martin at the sale of Taylor's effects in 1865 and offered by him, through an agent James Hole, to the NPG in 1871. Martin's son finally sold it to the Gallery in 1907.
An interesting point was raised by Blunden (Edmund Blunden, 'A Portrait of John Clare' in Notes and Queries, May 1959, p 194) who noticed the discrepancy between the portrait and the engraving where Clare's right hand is shown. Blunden suggests the existence of another portrait, citing as evidence Wainewright's article in The London Magazine: '... a sketch of Clare's head which Hilton copied in watercolour from the large painting and sent as a present to Clare's father'. This sketch, at present unlocated, may have been the original of Scriven's engraving.

Physical descriptionback to top

Half-length seated to left in brown coat, cream waistcoat, grey striped trousers, yellow and green tie, white shirt; fair hair, grey eyes, fresh complexion; plain brown background.

Provenanceback to top

John Taylor; Christie's (offered to the NPG before the John Taylor sale) 17 March 1865 (1), bought by Frederick Martin and sold by his son Frederick Martin to the NPG 1907.

Exhibitionsback to top

Centenary exhibition in Northampton Central Public Library May-June 1964.

Reproductionsback to top

Line and stipple by E. Scriven (showing Clare's right hand), published 21 May 1821 and used as frontispiece to The Village Minstrel. T. G. Wainewright ('C. Van Vinkboorns') described this engraving in The London Magazine December 1821: 'And look! did you ever see a thing copied so accurately, and with so much feeling, as this brilliant little print by Scriven, after Hilton's natural and characteristic portrait of Clare? What life in the eyes! What ardent thirst for excellence, and what flexibility and susceptibility to outward impression in the quivering lips! Observe the thigh caught up unconsciously by the hand! it does Hilton's penetration credit to have arrested that most unsophisticated and speaking action.'

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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