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John Dryden

4 of 31 portraits of John Dryden

John Dryden, by James Maubert, after 1700 -NPG 1133 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Stuart Portraits Catalogue

John Dryden

by James Maubert
after 1700
22 1/2 in. x 19 3/4 in. (572 mm x 502 mm)
NPG 1133

This portraitback to top

This allusive composition suggests commemoration rather than portraiture. Dryden is casually dressed in an Indian gown and slippers (mules); on the table to the right, beneath a spray of laurel, lie books titled Homer/Virgil/Horace/Montaigne, an open volume of Shakespear leaning against them; on the windowsill an eagle looks up to the sun holding in its beak a scroll inscribed (now almost illegibly): spernit humum fugiente penna (Horace, Odes III, ii, 24); [1] through the window a landscape, plausibly interpreted by Scharf as portraying the twin peaks of Helicon and Parnassus.
According to Vertue writing c.1721, Maubert made at least twenty portraits of British poets ‘from the Earliest to the present time’, some life-size in oval frames, but some ‘painted from the life as Dryden Congreve Pope Wicherly & others’. [2] Piper commented of NPG 1133 in 1968, ‘the small scale and its allusions make it seem probable that it was designed as a library piece’, in which case it may be posthumous; the Horatian tag encourages this idea.
A replica from Strawberry Hill, inscribed on the verso with Maubert’s name, is at Knowsley. [3]

Footnotesback to top

1) G. Scharf, Knowsley Cat., 1875, p 181, no.351, describing the duplicate picture at Knowsley. In 1861 Scharf had first read the inscription in NPG 1133 as hamam diligent penna (Sir George Scharf’s Trustees’ Sketch Books, 5:47). The full relevant English text from Horace’s Ode reads: ‘Virtue opens a way to Heaven for those who deserve not to die. It risks the forbidden path, spurning the vulgar throng and the dank earth with soaring wing’ (trans. David West).
2) G. Vertue, Notebooks, Wal. Soc., XXII, 1934, p 28, and see Wal. Soc., XXIV, 1936, p 120.
3) See note 1. Bought by the Earl of Derby at the Strawberry Hill sale, 22nd day, 19 May 1842, lot 1; first seen by Scharf in 1865 (Sir George Scharf’s Sketch Books, 73:76v).

Referenceback to top

Piper 1963
D. Piper, Catalogue of the Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery 1625-1714, 1963, p 114.

Piper 1968
D. Piper, ‘The Development of the British Literary Portrait up to Samuel Johnson’, Proceedings of the British Academy, LIV, 1968, p 60.

Provenanceback to top

1 Painted for Jacob Tonson I; his great nephew Richard Tonson (1717-72) who gave it to Grosvenor Bedford (d. 1771); his grandson Grosvenor Charles Bedford (1773-1839);2 his sale, Christie’s, 1 March 1861, lot 38;3 Sir Charles Wentworth Dilke, 2nd Bt. (1843-1911); his sale, Christie’s, 20 July 1872, lot 44 as by Kneller, bought Henry Graves and sold in 1873 to John Murray; A. H. Hallam Murray, his sale, Christie’s, 13 June 1898, lot 65, bought Colnaghi for the NPG.

1 The provenance given in a MS label written after 1898 formerly verso, now separately conserved, and see note 3 below.
2 See J. Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery, Mid-Georgian Portraits 1760-1790, 2004, p 369; Wal. Corr., XLII, pp 491-92.
3 The picture was offered to the NPG immediately prior to the sale (Trustees Meeting, 25 February 1861), but declined. The sale was described as comprising ‘the property of the late Grosvenor Charles Bedford Esqr of the Exchequer Whose Family had been connected with that of Sir Robert Walpole, by early private friendship, and subsequent Official Employment from 1700 to 1797’. Lot 38 was described as having a label verso (now untraced): John Dryden, painted from life for Mr Jacob Tonson and presented by his nephew to Mr Grosvenor Bedford probably about 1758, when Mr G Bedford was Deputy-Usher of the Exchequer under Horace Walpole, from 1755 to 1771.

Exhibitionsback to top

Beningbrough 1978–; Portraits of Writers, NPG, 1984, no.11.


This extended catalogue entry is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Later Stuart Portraits 1685–1714, National Portrait Gallery, 2009, 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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