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William Charles Macready

16 of 231 portraits by John Jackson

Early Victorian Portraits Catalogue

William Charles Macready

by John Jackson
36 in. x 24 1/4 in. (914 mm x 616 mm)
NPG 1503

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This portraitback to top

This portrait of Macready shows him in the character of Shakespeare's 'Henry IV', in part II, which he played at the Drury Lane Theatre on 25 June 1821, in celebration of the Coronation of George IV. The portrait was originally commissioned by Charles Mathews for his 'Gallery of Theatrical Notables'. Macready wrote of it (Reminiscences, p 229):

'The picture had made considerable progress, when Fawcett called with me one day to see it. On coming out from Jackson's studio, he exclaimed, "Why, William, you must not give that picture away - Jackson has never done anything like it!" When I reported this to Jackson, his quiet answer was, "Well: it is very easy to paint another; you would not mind paying for the ground colours being rubbed in by another hand, would you?" My objections were vain to this proposal of my most liberal friend. His pupil made a rough copy of the picture, which Jackson, putting the first draft aside, finished at once. I sent it with a kind note to Mathews, from whom I received this answer:
Dear Macready, - It is not in my power to express satisfactorily to myself my feelings of surprise and pleasure on the receipt of your splendid present, and the gratifying letter that accompanied it ... The picture is a most beautiful work of art, and a perfect resemblance…It was seen by many persons yesterday and universally admired. It is as great an ornament to my gallery as its original is to the profession and sphere he moves in.'

The Mathews version is now in the Garrick Club, London; it was lithographed by R. J. Lane, published Ackermann, 1824 (example in British Museum), and engraved by C. H. Jeens for the title-page of Macready's Reminiscences, I. According to Macready, the original version was not finished till late in the same year, and he erroneously states that it was then exhibited at the 'British Gallery, Pall Mall': it was not exhibited there until 1823.
Jackson executed a drawing of Macready in the character of Virginius in 1820, engraved by C. Picart, published Colnaghi, 1830, and by C. H. Jeens (examples in NPG), and later a painting of him as Macbeth ('Hark! who lies i' the second chamber?'), formerly in the collection of Major-General C. F. N. Macready, reproduced Diaries, 1833-1851, II, facing 224, exhibited RA, 1821 (333). Macready became very devoted to the artist, writing that 'as intimacy developed to me more and more the simplicity and benevolence of his nature, my attachment to him kept pace in its growth with my admiration of his genius during his life, and still clings warmly to his memory'. (Macready's Reminiscences, I, 213). Macready attended Jackson's funeral on 9 June 1831, and made a donation to his widow.

Referenceback to top

Pollock (ed.) 1875
Macready's Reminiscences and Selections from his Diaries, edited Sir Frederick Pollock (1875), I, 229-30.

Toynbee (ed.) 1912
The Diaries of W. M. Macready, 1833-1851, edited W. Toynbee (1912), I, 3n.

Physical descriptionback to top

Dark eyes. Dressed in a dark red and gold under-garment, green and white over-garment and a red head-dress. Background colour very dark brown.

Provenanceback to top

The sitter, bequeathed by him, 1873, with a life interest for his wife; she presented it in 1908.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Ormond, Early Victorian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1973, 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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