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John Howard

1 of 28 portraits by Mather Brown

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

John Howard

by Mather Brown
circa 1789
30 in. x 24 3/4 in. (761 mm x 628 mm)
NPG 97

This portraitback to top

There is no satisfactory portrait of Howard. The casts taken of his face at his death are untraced and there was otherwise 'no portrait of him extant but what was taken by stealth’. [1] A dissenter, he held strong views about portraiture; he had found in his travels in Italy many monuments ‘to humble the pride of Man and shew how Luxury and Wickedness will sink a Nation’ [2] and when in 1787 friends had raised a subscription for his statue [3] he reacted strongly. ‘I cannot’, he wrote, ‘without violating all my feelings, consent to the execution of your design. It would be to me a cruel punishment ... I must always view with pain and abhorrence every attempt of my friends to bring me forward to public view and public approbation’. [4] In 1792 his friend and biographer John Aikin wrote that all portraits published in other books were totally unlike and the frontispiece to his own biography (by Holloway) although something of a caricature, did show exactly Howard’s expression when in a serious, attentive mood. [5]
NPG 97 is a reduced version of a three-quarter length by Mather Brown, now untraced, [6] which was engraved by E. Scott, the print published on 14 September 1789, two months after Howard had set out on his last, fateful voyage. The print shows Howard seated by a fluted column, holding in his right hand a half-rolled plan lettered Plan of a Lazaretto (he had been visiting the Italian fever hospitals in 1786). Evans has plausibly suggested [7] that Brown’s portrait was prompted as a commercial venture instigated by the engraver, and the cruder derivative plates of 1790 suggest the viability of such a scheme. [8] These engravings, however, fall among those portraits dismissed by Aikin as ‘totally unlike’.
A crude version at Southill, which evidently belonged to Howard’s close friend Samuel Whitebread, is inscribed: Can we forget the generous MAN/Who touch’d with human woe redressive sought/Into the horrors of the gloomy jail.

Footnotesback to top

1) J. B. Brown, Memoirs of the Public and Private Life of John Howard, 1823, p 533.
2) See J. Ingamells, Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701-1800, compiled from the Brinsley Ford Archive, 1997, p 528.
3) See Gentleman's Magazine, LVI, 1786, I, p 360, II, 627-32; proposed by ‘Anglus’ who urged that ‘no time is to be lost; for, if it be not executed before his return, Mr Howard’s humble sense of his own merits would most certainly prevent it’; the subscription was raised through the printer Nichols; Flaxman, Hickey and Sanders sought ‘instructions of any of Howard’s friends, intimately acquainted with his features’.
4) T. Taylor, Memoirs of John Howard, 1836, pp 301, 303.
5) Quoted in W. T. Whitley, Artists and their Friends in England 1700-1799, 1928, II, p 360. What was George Crabbe remembering when he said his father’s ‘highly marked countenance’ was not unlike that of Howard (Life of Crabbe, by his son, 1947 ed., p 7)?
6) D. Evans, Mather Brown: an early American artist in England, 1982, no.95.
7) D. Evans, Mather Brown: an early American artist in England, 1982, p 89.
8) For example, the two by T. Cook and J. Wooding, both pub. April 1790 (i.e. on the news of Howard’s death). There is also a later French lithograph by de Villain from a drawing by A. Maurin.

Referenceback to top

Evans 1982
D. Evans, Mather Brown: an early American artist in England, 1982, no.96.

Physical descriptionback to top

Grey eyes, powdered hair, wearing a green coat, red waistcoat with gold trim, and a white cravat; a red curtain behind; the spandrels are grey.

Provenanceback to top

Purchased from the Rev Robert Ainslie 1860.

Exhibitionsback to top

Second special exhibition of National Portraits (William and Mary to MDCCC), South Kensington, 1867 (815); La scienza e la colpa, Turin, 1985.

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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