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

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, by John Singleton Copley, exhibited 1783 -NPG 172 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield

by John Singleton Copley
exhibited 1783
89 5/8 in. x 58 5/8 in. (2276 mm x 1490 mm) overall
NPG 172

Inscriptionback to top

Signed bottom right: J. S. Copley. pinx.

This portraitback to top

Although NPG 172 passed to Lord Lyndhurst, the artist’s son, the Morning Chronicle, 30 April 1783, asserted that it had been commissioned by Mr Justice Buller, who had greatly benefited from Mansfield’s patronage; [1] Holliday alleged that Mansfield sat ‘no less than four times to Copley, out of respect to Mr Justice Buller’. [2]
Although ultimately derived from the impassive figure of Mansfield in Copley’s Death of Chatham, NPG 172 is an animated and powerful portrait. A number of compositional drawings reveal Copley’s initial uncertainty; while the figure was always whole length, looking right, robed and seated, the body and arms were variously disposed. [3] The bust perched oddly above the door behind him is presumably intended for Pope, his 'friend and favourite', [4] of whom Mansfield had an unidentified bust at Kenwood. [5] When the portrait was shown at the RA in 1783, the Public Advertiser congratulated Lord Mansfield on the ‘apparent amelioration of his taste. As long as we can remember he has been in the worst hands, Ramsay, Martin and so on ... we do not despair of soon seeing him the Patron of Painters worth patronizing, Romney, Gainsborough and Reynolds’. [6]
A three-quarter length version from Inworth Hall was sold Phillips, 19-20 September 1951, lot 26; a miniature copy by William Birch dated 1785 is in the Harvard Law School and another, the date illegible, was sold Christie’s, Geneva, 28 April 1976, lot 156.

Footnotesback to top

1) Sir Francis Buller, see NPG 458. Mansfield eased his legal promotion and was to leave him £2,000. See W. L. Pressly in E. B. Neff, John Singleton Copley in England, exhibition catalogue, Washington, Houston, 1995, p 52, and J. Jacob, The true resemblance of Lord Mansfield, Kenwood, 1971, no.26.
2) As John Jacob commented (J. Jacob, The true resemblance of Lord Mansfield, Kenwood, 1971, introduction, n.p.), this may have been confusing Mansfield with Camden, who sat four times to Dance.
3) Illus. J. D. Prown, John Singleton Copley, 1966, II: Yale University Art Gallery (fig.430); Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (fig.431); Mead Art Museum, Amherst Coll., Amherst, Mass. (fig.432); Cleveland Museum of Art (fig.434); British Museum, 1913.5.28.20 (fig.435), and unlocated (fig.433).
4) J. Holliday, Life of William late Earl of Mansfield, 1797, p 284. Pope addressed Mansfield in his Imitation of Horace's Epistle I, VI: 'Grac'd, as thou art, with all the power of words,/So known, so honour'd, at the House of Lords' (48-49).
5) D. Lysons, Middlesex, III, 1795, p 349 (‘in the breakfast parlour is a bust of Pope’); W. K. Wimsatt, The Portraits of Pope, 1965, p 235. The bust formerly at Kenwood is now identified as that by Roubiliac in Leeds City Art Gallery, see J. Jacob, The true resemblance of Lord Mansfield, Kenwood, 1971, no.3, and M. Baker in Return to Life, exhibition cat., NPG etc., 2000, p 29; the socle does not agree with that shown in NPG 172, but it is unnecessary to seek such a detail in what was evidently intended by Copley to be a generalised reference.
6) W. T. Whitley, Artists and their Friends in England 1700-1799, 1928, I, p 362. A portrait by Ramsay, Martin’s teacher, remains untraced, but see NPG 474, which was once attributed to him.

Physical descriptionback to top

Grey eyes, grey full-bottomed legal wig, wearing a black suit and an Earl’s parliamentary robes; the manuscripts on the table are deliberately illegible; above the door, behind him, is a bust, probably of Pope.

Provenanceback to top

Sir Francis Buller, 1st Bt (d. 1800); the artist’s son, Lord Lyndhurst; his sale, Christie’s, 5 March 1864, lot 81, purchased.

Exhibitionsback to top

RA 1783 (5); Copley, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1936-37 (39); Royal Courts of Justice, London, 1958-85; Copley, Washington, New York, Boston, 1965-66 (76); Lord Mansfield, Kenwood, 1971 (53).

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.

View all known portraits for John Singleton Copley

View all known portraits for William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield


Tudor and Elizabethan matching pairs

Test your memory by playing our matching pairs game. Three levels of difficulty make it fun for the whole family.

Test your skill

Regency familiar faces

Rearrange tiles to uncover sitters from the Gallery's Collection by playing our puzzle game.

Play today

Who do you think you were?

Answer a few lifestyle questions about the Elizabethan period and discover your inner Elizabethan!

Start now