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James Gibbs

James Gibbs, by John Michael Williams, circa 1752 -NPG 504 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

James Gibbs

by John Michael Williams
circa 1752
36 in. x 28 in. (912 mm x 712 mm)
NPG 504

Inscriptionback to top

Signed below his right shoulder in black: J. Williams Pinx., the J rather faint.
On the top bar of the stretcher a stencil
24 H, and in ink on a paper on the back of the centre bar: Portrait of Gibbs, the Architect, from Mr. Sharpe's Collection/I bought from his Seat at Brockley Hill, Middx, on/the demolition of the House in [paper torn] 1830./Thomas Sharpe Smith/21 Nov. 18(44)- the last two figures indistinct.

This portraitback to top

The Bodleian possesses an almost identical picture signed and dated 1752. [1] The relationship between this and NPG 504 has yet to be clarified. The book lettered ARCHIT in our picture could be either Gibbs' A Book of Architecture, published 1728, or his Rules for Drawing the Several Parts of Architecture ...,1732, and the unlettered volume his drawings for the Radcliffe, published as Bibliotheca Radcliviana, 1747. The type seems to associate Gibbs with the Radcliffe building (1737-49) but it is not known whether it was painted in the early stages of the work or after its completion. The Bodleian version may have been painted as a thank-offering to the university, from whom Gibbs received an honorary MA in 1749.

Footnotesback to top

1) H. M. Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects, 1954, p 230; R. L. Poole, Catalogue of Portraits in the Possession of the University, Colleges, City and County of Oxford, 1912-25, I, p 102 (254), as listed in the 1760 catalogue.

Physical descriptionback to top

Pale blue eyes, broad face, fresh complexion, grey wig to shoulders; greyish-white neck-tie and wrist ruffles, grey velvet coat open to waist, gold-brocaded waistcoat; in his right hand he holds dividers and with his left he points to a plan [of the Radcliffe Library] spread on a book, his elbow resting on another book bound in brown calf and lettered GIBBS/ARCHIT; brown background.

Conservationback to top

A discolouration in the back of the chair probably conceals an old damage; some retouching round the edges; the relining canvas is now frail and the varnish somewhat discoloured.

Provenanceback to top

Bought 1878, Christie's 26 July, 2nd day, lot 274 (an extra lot); purchased as recorded on the stretcher, by Thomas Sharpe Smith, 1830. In 1872 [1] Scharf noted it at a Captain F. Harrison Smith's, Cavendish Road, London, by whom it was offered with other portraits including those of the Duke and Duchess of Richmond and Lord Grandison, all 'formerly in Mr Sharpe's collection at Brockley Hill House, Edgware'. [2] NPG 504 is therefore presumably the 'head of Gibbs the architect' seen there, with other portraits, by Lysons [3] who referred to Mr Sharpe, an attorney, [4] as having been secretary to the Duke of Chandos; it was the Duke's seat at Cannons that Gibbs had rebuilt 'at vast Expence'. [5] Though not mentioned in the inventories, the portrait may thus once have belonged to the Duke himself. No information is available regarding the relationship, if any, between Mr Sharpe, Thomas Sharpe Smith and Captain Harrison Smith.

Reproductionsback to top

Engraved by J. McArdell, undated, with the following additions, as in the Bodleian version: the plan lettered A plan of the Radcliffe library, a square between the books, and an elevation of the library tucked in beneath the volume under his left arm.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, 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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