The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

First Previous 1 OF 36 NextLast

John Locke

1 of 36 portraits of John Locke

John Locke, by John Greenhill, 1672 -NPG 3912 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Stuart Portraits Catalogue

John Locke

by John Greenhill
22 1/8 in. x 18 1/2 in. (562 mm x 470 mm) oval
NPG 3912

This portraitback to top

How NPG 3912 came into the hands of Locke’s friend Edward Clarke remains unclear, but there can be little doubt that it was through him that the picture passed to the Sanford family.
Locke had sat to Greenhill c.1672, at the same time as Greenhill painted his patron the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, with whom Locke was then living. [1] In 1688 Locke remembered sitting for his portrait ‘about twenty years ago’ and paying £15 for it, [2] naming the painter as Greenhill in 1689. [3] When Locke left for France in 1675 the portrait had been left with Thomas Stringer, [4] and on his return Locke recorded in his Journal (12 July 1679) ‘Found … the things I had left with Mr Stringer at Exeter house on 12 November 1675; except my picture which he had removed to his house at Bexwells’. [5] Stringer disputed the ownership and there survives a quarrelsome correspondence from 1688-89 [6] at the end of which Stringer still had the portrait. In 1689 Locke received Mrs Stringer’s permission to have the disputed Greenhill engraved and Mrs Clark[e] had undertaken to return it, [7] but no engraving of that date is known.
In the course of this dispute, Stringer mentioned that ‘doctor Thomas hath one [a portrait] that is generally thought better paynted and is of a much lesse size, and Consequently may be better secured from danger of hurt in Carriage, Whereas mine is soe large that it cannot well, be packed in the Country (without hazard) for soe long a journey.’ [8] Since Dr Thomas was Greenhill’s brother-in-law it might be assumed this was a second portrait by Greenhill. Sometime before 1725 Vertue recorded ‘Two pictures of Mr Locke one in poses of Ld C Just. King [see King of Ockham] another in poses of a Relation. Both done by Greenhill certainly’. [9]
NPG 3912 was very probably the Thomas portrait, the smaller of the two and the portrait listed by Vertue as being with ‘a Relation’ c.1725.
A larger half-length rectangular version (76 x 63 cm, agreeing with NPG 3912 in detail) was sold Sotheby’s, 21 October 1964, lot 4, inscribed twice John Locke, possibly the ‘Stringer’ portrait (although the quality is uncertain).
There may have been a third version. [10] The oval engraving of Greenhill’s portrait by P. van Gunst (published in 1700 as the frontispiece to Coste’s translation of Locke’s Essay) was apparently taken from a portrait Locke sent to Jean Le Clerc in Amsterdam in 1699. [11] While the face mask agrees well enough with NPG 3912, the stock and wig show minor differences. Worthington’s much inferior engraving of 1830 was prefixed to the 7th Lord King’s Life of Locke 1829 (and was perhaps therefore from the portrait Vertue had listed as with Lord King); it seems to agree with the van Gunst plate.

Footnotesback to top

1) Locke praised Greenhill in a little verse inscribed in a copy of Cowley’s Poems of 1672 which he gave to the painter (‘Thy pictures are so drawn, in them we find, The inward make and temper of the mind … to preserve and make us lasting men, Fate gave to thee thy pencil …’; see B. Martyn & Dr Kipps, The Life of the first Earl of Shaftesbury, 1836, II, p 13). For Shaftesbury’s portraiture, see D. Piper, Catalogue of the Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery 1625-1714, 1963, p 313 (a three-quarter-length copy of Greenhill’s whole-length at Wimborne St Giles is NPG 3893).
2) Locke Corr., III, no.1046.
3) Ibid., III, no.1165.
4) Thomas Stringer (c.1639-1702) was also in Shaftesbury’s service as steward; he had an estate at Bexwells (or Bexfields) near Chelmsford, moving c.1682-88 to Ivy Church in Alderbury near Salisbury; married Jane Barbon of Wimbourne St Giles, 1675 (see Locke Corr., I, p 434).
5) M. Cranston, John Locke, 1957, p 187.
6) Between Locke and Stringer and his wife Jane Stringer, with Edward Clarke attempting to mediate in Locke’s favour (Locke Corr., III, nos. 1020, 1028, 1030, 1038, 1045, 1046, 1047, 1050, 1060, 1077, 1165, 1166, 1167, 1171 and 1173).
7) Ibid., III, nos. 1165, 1167, 1171.
8) Ibid., III, no.1028.
9) G. Vertue, Notebooks, Wal. Soc., XVIII, 1930, p 134, adding ‘says Mr Geekie who offered 50 pounds for one but could not have it they are both fine pictures’. Vertue had previously noted (G. Vertue, Notebooks, Wal. Soc., XVIII, 1930, p 133) ‘Of Mr Locke a fine half length picture painted by Sr P Lilly in poses Ld C Justice King Greenhill’, ‘Greenhill’ apparently a correction for ‘Lilly’; presumably the portrait listed on p 134.
10) In 1689 Locke found his portrait by Greenhill in the studio of a painter to whom he was sitting, presumably Herman Verelst, see NPG 3846.
11) Locke Corr., VI, nos. 2588, 2595, 2609.

Referenceback to top

De Beer 1989
E. S. de Beer, ‘Locke’s Portraits’ in The Correspondence of John Locke, VIII, 1989, Appendix I, pp 444-46.

Piper 1963
D. Piper, Catalogue of the Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery 1625-1714, 1963, pp 199.

Provenanceback to top

[Dr David Thomas (d.1694);1 Edward Clarke (1650-1710) of Chipley Park].2 By descent in the Sanford family at Nynehead Court; purchased from W. A. Sanford of Chipley Park 1954.3

1 Dr David Thomas (c.1634-94) practised at Salisbury from 1667, attended Lord Shaftesbury; corresponded with Locke 1666-93; married before 1673 Honor Greenhill, sister of the painter (Locke Corr., I, no.278 and p 324n1).
2 Edward Clarke (1650-1710) of Chipley Park, MP 1690-1710, married 1675 Mary Jepp (d. 1706, a cousin of Locke); he met Locke c.1680, becoming his close friend and his mouthpiece in the Commons; his daughter Anne (d. 1744) married William Sanford (d. 1718) of Nynehead Court, Som.
3 C. K. Adams, then the Director, had considered exchanging the Verelst NPG 3846 for the Greenhill, and approached the NACF accordingly.

Exhibitionsback to top

Beningbrough 1978–.

Reproductionsback to top

P. van Gunst 1700; W. H. Worthington 1830.

This extended catalogue entry is from the National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Ingamells, National Portrait Gallery: Later Stuart Portraits 1685–1714, National Portrait Gallery, 2009, 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 John Locke


Make a donation

Support our Make History appeal and help us transform the Gallery.

Help us make history

Online shop

A unique range of books, accessories and gifts. Every purchase supports the Gallery’s work.

Shop now

Bring a familiar face home

Refresh your home gallery with a huge selection of custom art prints .

Buy a print