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Sir William Hamilton

Sir William Hamilton, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1777 -NPG 680 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Sir William Hamilton

by Sir Joshua Reynolds
100 1/2 in. x 69 in. (2553 mm x 1752 mm)
NPG 680

This portraitback to top

Commissioned by Hamilton with the intention that it should accompany his collection of antiquities in the British Museum, rather than the Allan portrait (NPG 589). Sittings took place during his residence in England from summer 1776 to autumn 1777; there is no sitter book for 1776 but there are eight appointments in June 1777, some of which may have been for the Dilettanti group portrait (for which Reynolds used the same head). In February 1782 NPG 680 was hanging in the British Museum, [1] although Reynolds did not receive his 100 guineas for ‘Sir William Hamilton, Museum Picture’, until September 1784. [2]
Since 1775, when Allan had painted his formal portrait (NPG 589), Hamilton’s achievements as a collector and scientist had been lavishly published, in the first two volumes of d’Hancarville’s Antiquités Etrusques, Grecques et Romaines, and the first two volumes of Hamilton’s vulcanological studies, the Campi Phlegraei. Reynolds refers to these publications in presenting the elegant connoisseur, an altogether appropriate image for the British Museum.
Although catalogued by Davies in 1946 as Reynolds, NPG 680 was subsequently listed in the concise NPG catalogues of 1949, 1970 and 1981 as a studio copy [3] (the size and intricacy of the composition inevitably led to some studio collaboration).
Two related oil sketches, possibly contemporary copies, are recorded in private collections; one the same size as the Hudson engraving, the other exhibited Lady Hamilton 1972, no.29. [4]

Footnotesback to top

1) Where it was varnished, with the agreement of Reynolds and Hamilton, on 2 July 1782 (I. Jenkins & K. Sloan, Vases & Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his Collection, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, 1996, p 176).
2) M. Cormack, 'The Ledgers of Sir Joshua Reynolds', Wal. Soc., XLII, 1970, pp 154-55. Apparently a special price; at the same time Hamilton paid his contribution to the Dilettanti group portrait (35 gn.).
3) The result of a review of all the Reynolds portraits in the NPG undertaken by C. K. Adams, J. Steegman and H. M. Hake in 1937. NPG 680 was illustrated as a studio work, for example, in Connoisseur, CLXXIII, 1970, p 253; Country Life, CXXXIV, 1963, p 1338, and J. R. Fawcett Thompson, Connoisseur, CLXXIII, 1970, p 253. It reverted to Reynolds in I. Jenkins & K. Sloan, Vases & Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his Collection, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, 1996 (51) and D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, I, 2000, no.823.
4) Respectively D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, I, 2000, nos.823a and 823b.

Referenceback to top

Davies 1946
M. Davies, National Gallery Catalogues, The British School, 1946, p 116.

Graves & Cronin 1899-1901
A. Graves & W. V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 4 vols., 1899-1901, II, pp 423-24, IV, pp 1329-31.

Jenkins & Sloan
I. Jenkins & K. Sloan, Vases & Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his Collection, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, 1996, pp 176-81.

Mannings 2000
D. Mannings, Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2 vols., 2000, no.823.

Waterhouse 1941
E. K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, 1941, p 68.

Physical descriptionback to top

Blue-grey eyes, powdered hair, wearing a deep maroon jacket with the star of the Bath and holding open on his lap the first volume of d'Hancarville's Antiquités (open at pl.71 which bears a Greek dedication to Hamilton);1 it is presumably the second volume which lies open on the floor; on the right Greek antiquities from the Hamilton collection in the British Museum: a red-figured hydria, a wine jug, two drinking horns and a bronze sword;2 beside him on the floor stand folio volumes inscribed VLCAN//DIICARA and PRINTS/PASTE.3

1 I. Jenkins & K. Sloan, Vases & Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his Collection, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, 1996, p 179.
2 Ibid., nos.55-57.
3 Possibly referring to Hamilton’s Campi Phlegraei (vols. I & II published in 1776) with their illustrations by Pietro Fabris (cf. I. Jenkins & K. Sloan, Vases & Volcanoes: Sir William Hamilton and his Collection, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, 1996, p 165).

Provenanceback to top

Commissioned by the sitter and presented to the British Museum 1782; transferred to the National Gallery 1843 (NG 185); ownership transferred to the Tate Gallery 1954 and to the NPG 1957.

Exhibitionsback to top

British Institution 1831 (114); English Taste in the 18th century, RA, 1955 (403); Hamilton Collection, British Museum, 1972 (49); Civiltá del 700 a Napoli 1734-99, Naples, 1979 (180); Vases & Volcanoes 1996 (51); Viaggio in Italia, Genoa, 2001 (VII.36).

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.

Reproductionsback to top

H. Hudson 1782 (dedicated to the Trustees of the British Museum), later states 1787, 1788; S. W. Reynolds.

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