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George Colman the Elder

George Colman the Elder, by Thomas Gainsborough, circa 1778 -NPG 59 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

George Colman the Elder

by Thomas Gainsborough
circa 1778
28 1/2 in. x 23 1/4 in. (724 mm x 591 mm)
NPG 59

This portraitback to top

Probably painted in 1778, when Gainsborough was decorating the King’s Theatre, Haymarket (opposite the Theatre Royal, where Colman was manager). [1] Boaden later recalled how on first meeting Colman, in about 1781, he had been ‘very much struck with the exact resemblance of his portrait, by Gainsborough, which hung over the fire-place in his sitting room’. [2]

Footnotesback to top

1) See I. Mackintosh & G. Ashton, The Georgian Playhouse, Actors, Artists, Audiences and Architecture 1730-1830, exhibition catalogue, Arts Council, 1975, no.93.
2) At 28 Soho Square; J. Boaden, Life of Kemble, I, 1825, p 288.

Referenceback to top

Waterhouse 1953
E. K. Waterhouse, ‘Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough’, Wal. Soc., XXXIII, 1953, p 23.

Waterhouse 1958
E. K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958, no.161.

Physical descriptionback to top

Blue eyes, powdered hair, wearing a pale blue coat with gold trim, grey waistcoat, white breeches; a deep red curtain behind him.

Provenanceback to top

Bought from the sitter’s son, George Colman (d. 1836), on 30 November 1836 by Charles Webb;1 John Webb, from whom purchased 1859.

1 As recorded in an old label verso.

Exhibitionsback to top

National Gallery -1920; The Georgian Playhouse, Actors, Artists, Audiences and Architecture 1730-1830, Arts Council, 1975 (93); La peinture britannique, Bordeaux, 1977 (15); Gainsborough, Paris, 1981 (49); Royal Opera House Retrospective, RA, 1982 (196); Treasures from the National Portrait Gallery, NPG exhibition, Fukushima, Nagoya, Kitakyushu HIroshima, Tokyo, 1995-96 (15); Gainsborough, Ferrara, 1998 (18).

Reproductionsback to top

J. Scott 1874; as a bust-length oval; anon. 1785 (from an original picture by Gainsborough; European Mag.,); J. Hall 1787; A. Smith 1802; T. Cheesman (as after de Loutherbourg) 1807.


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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