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Thomas Gray

3 of 14 portraits of Thomas Gray

Thomas Gray, by Unknown artist, circa 1771-1819 -NPG 781 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Thomas Gray

by Unknown artist
circa 1771-1819
21 1/2 in. (546 mm) high
NPG 781

This portraitback to top

The bust was attributed on acquisition to John Bacon, the elder (1740-99) but in 1925 this was questioned by Mrs Esdaile and has now been abandoned. Bacon's monument in Westminster Abbey executed in 1771 bears no relation to NPG 781 which is, in fact, of too poor quality to be by him. Nor is there any record of any other design by this sculptor or by his sons, John Bacon, the younger (1777-1859) and T. Bacon. The bust, first recorded when engraved in 1819, was stated in the Stoke Poges catalogue of 1851 to have been intended for the flower garden at Stoke Poges House where Gray was a frequent visitor. In August 1758, for example, he wrote to Wharton that he had 'been obliged to go every day almost to Stoke-house ...'. [1] The bust probably derives from the profile drawn by Mason which it closely resembles. An anecdote quoted in the sale catalogue as 'related to Mr. Robert Osborn, now resident at Fulham' recounts that 'an old man of the name of Richard Hestor, who had in his youth lived in the service of Gray, was, in my presence, taken to see several busts which were about to be placed in the Flower Garden at Stoke Park, without being told that Gray's was among them; he at once identified it and said "That is my old Master" and further remarked that it was very like'.

Footnotesback to top

1) Correspondence of Thomas Gray, ed. P. Toynbee and L. Whibley, 1935, II, p 584, letter 277.

Physical descriptionback to top

Hair brushed back and close to head, eyeballs incised, neck bare, no drapery.

Conservationback to top

A number of paint losses; white plaster showing through.

Provenanceback to top

Presented, 1888, by Joshua W. Butterworth, FSA, son of the purchaser at Sotheby's sale, collection of manuscripts and relics of Gray removed from Stoke Poges House, 28 August 1851, lot 138: 'Posthumous Bust of the Poet Gray. A Plaster Bust with detached Pedestal'. The pedestal is now missing.

Reproductionsback to top

'An engraving of it in a book dated 1819', prefixed to Sharpe's edition of Gray's Letters. [1]

1) Whibley, letter 30 November 1936, NPG archives.

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.

View all known portraits for Thomas Gray


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