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William Thomas Lewis as Mercutio in 'Romeo and Juliet'

William Thomas Lewis as Mercutio in 'Romeo and Juliet', by Gainsborough Dupont, 1794 -NPG 5148 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

William Thomas Lewis as Mercutio in 'Romeo and Juliet'

by Gainsborough Dupont
28 7/8 in. x 25 in. (733 mm x 635 mm)
NPG 5148

This portraitback to top

NPG 5148, a loose and vigorous portrait, was one of a series commissioned from Gainsborough Dupont in 1793-94 by Thomas Harris, manager of the Covent Garden Theatre from 1774. [1] Harris, ‘considering Dupont as wanting employ commissioned him to paint portraits of the Actors of that Theatre and only to proceed with the commission when he had no others’, [2] the actor John O’Keeffe adding that the subjects were to be ‘the principal performers of Covent Garden theatre, in their most distinguished characters’. [3] Twenty-three or twenty-four portraits are recorded; besides NPG 5148, twelve are now in the Garrick Club [4] and one in the Norton Gallery, West Palm Beach. [5]
On 22 March 1794 the Morning Herald announced that Dupont had completed twelve portraits, including Lewis as Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, a role he had played on three occasions in the 1793-94 season. [6] Both the attribution and the identity as Mercutio were subsequently lost. In 1896 the Tennant catalogue stated it showed Lewis as the Marquis in Mrs Inchbald’s The Midnight Hour, probably because the then well-known whole length by Shee in the National Gallery showed him in that role. Lewis was again shown as Mercutio by Samuel De Wilde in 1809, on this occasion wearing a silver costume with a blue cloak, a falling lace collar and a sword belt.

Footnotesback to top

1) This account is based on J. Hayes, Connoisseur, CLXIX, 1968, pp 221-27. See also G. Ashton, Royal Opera House Retrospective, 1982, pp 69-79.
2) Joseph Farington, Diary, 16 vols., 1978-98, 21 April 1795.
3) John O’Keeffe c.1793 in his Recollections, 1826, quoted by G. Ashton, Royal Opera House Retrospective, 1982, p 70.
4) See G. Ashton, Pictures in the Garrick Club, ed. K. A. Burnim & A. Wilton, 1997, nos.87, 120, 210, 306, 603, 460, 597, 633, 677, 683, 701, 796. Another by Singleton, no.333, was presumably added to the set after Dupont’s death.
5) Illus. Connoisseur, CLXIX, 1968, p 227. Another matching half length by Dupont in the Royal Collection of Mme Bacelli, who played at the King’s Theatre (Sir Oliver Millar, The Later Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty The Queen, I, 1969, no.769), was not apparently painted for Harris, since it belonged to George IV in 1816.
6) Quoted by J. Hayes, Connoisseur, CLXIX, 1968, p 223, and see G. Ashton, Royal Opera House Retrospective, 1982, p 71, no.124.

Referenceback to top

Tennant Catalogue, 1896, n.p. (as Gainsborough, Lewis as the Marquis in The Midnight Hour);

Waterhouse 1953
E. K. Waterhouse, ‘Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough’, Wal. Soc., XXXIII, 1953, p 68 (as late Gainsborough or Dupont)

Waterhouse 1958
E. K. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, 1958., no.517.

Physical descriptionback to top

Brown eyes, white powdered hair, wearing pink Van Dyck costume with yellow gloves, a black sword-belt bearing a pearl button; a black-plumed hat with a thin red ribbon in his left hand; within a painted oval.

Provenanceback to top

Thomas Harris; his sale, Robins, 12 July 1819, lot 18 (Dupont, Lewis as Mercutio); anon. sale, Christie’s, 25 July 1891, lot 100 (Gainsborough, William Thomas Lewis, the Actor), bought Nathan, presumably for Sir Charles Tennant (1823-1906) who lent it for exhibition that year; by descent through the Barons Glenconner to the Hon Colin Tennant; sold by the Trustees of his Children, Sotheby’s, 6 July 1977, lot 22, bought Leggatt for the NPG.

Exhibitionsback to top

RA 1795 (273, 'Dupont, Portrait of Mr Lewis'); RA 1891 (46 as Gainsborough); Loan Collection, Glasgow, 1902 (114 Gainsborough); Les Arts du Théatre de Watteau à Fragonard, Bordeaux, 1980 (18); Royal Opera House Retrospective, RA, 1982 (124).

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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