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William Pitt

7 of 173 portraits of William Pitt

Regency Portraits Catalogue

William Pitt

by Joseph Nollekens
1808
28 in. (711 mm) high
NPG 120

Inscriptionback to top

Incised on back: Nollekens Ft 1808.

This portraitback to top

Pitt is said never to have allowed Nollekens a sitting because of the sculptor's so-called interference in petitioning the King about a long-delayed inscription for the 'Three Captains' monument in Westminster Abbey (J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times, 1920 edn., I, p 370). However Nollekens made up for this by attending Pitt's death-bed at Putney and taking the death-mask now at Chevening. Beaumont and Farington went to see it in Nollekens's studio and were told that Angerstein had said 'a resemblance of so great a man shd be preserved & asked Nollekens if he wd go to Putney & take a Cast from his face, to which Nollekens replied he could go in an Hour, which he did in a Chaise …' (Diary of Joseph Farington, 30 March 1806). The mask was placed on the chaise seat on the way back, Nollekens observing to his assistant, S. Gahagan, 'There I would not take fifty guineas for that mask, I can tell ye' (J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times, 1920 edn., I, p 368). He was right. From the mask and with some help from Hoppner's portrait he was able to turn out not only 74 marble busts at 120 guineas each but also the statue for the Senate House, Cambridge, for which he received 3000 guineas (D. E. Williams, Life of Sir Thomas Lawrence, 1831, I, p 280). General Phipps said that he and his brother Lord Mulgrave 'attended Nollekens while he was modelling it almost daily & continued to make observations to Him till they saw it a perfect likeness' (Farington, Diary, 25 May 1806).
Marble busts were commissioned by both Angerstein and Lord Mulgrave, who actually lent him Hoppner's portrait to assist in the production line. Angerstein's bust incised: William Pitt by Nollekens 1806 is at Dalmeny; Lord Mulgrave's incised: Nollekens Ft 1806 is still at Mulgrave Castle (Marquis of Normanby), and a copy also dated 1806 was at Bayham Abbey made for Lord Camden. Another copy, dated 1807, is at Herrenhausen. Marble copies were turned out from the studio by the dozen, often in pairs with C. J. Fox; assistants employed on the job, Sebastian Gahagan, Lewis Goblet 'and another Sculptor of inferior merit' being paid £24 each on average (J. T. Smith, Nollekens and his Times, 1920 edn., I, p 371).
Other copies may have been made by Bartolini working in Florence: 'The cheapness of sculpture must injure our English artists. Casts have been imported from London of the busts of the King, Fox, Pitt, Nelson, Perceval and many others. These Bartolini reproduces in marble and sends back to London, all expenses of carriage included, for 22 pounds each' (Henry Matthews, Diary of an Invalid, 1820, 7 December 1817).
Pitt's death-mask by Nollekens was bequeathed to Lord Stanhope by Francis Turner, barrister and conveyancer, in 1864. It was sketched at Chevening by Scharf in 1884 (Sir George Scharf’s Sketchbooks, 109, pp 73-4).
Nollekens's bust was used with or without acknowledgement for most posthumous portraits, busts and monuments of Pitt. Lawrence frankly declared to Farington that he had used the Nollekens bust (Diary of Joseph Farington, 7 May 1807). Catherine Andras inscribed her acknowledgements on the backs of her Pitt profiles and Peter Rouw may have done the same (see NPG 1747). The silhouettes by John Field in the British Museum (1846-4-25-21/2) are accompanied by a note explaining the source and describing how he had submitted one of them to Lady Hester Stanhope 'who did not approve of any of the likenesses done of him! The one from Mr Nollekens's bust she received from me and placing it on the table before her took up her Pen Knife & in a few seconds returned it to me in its present scratched state, saying at the same time, "there, that is more like what he was, but don't show it to anyone" … the profile is precisely in the same state I received it from her hand.' Another derivative was the Chantrey bust formerly in Trinity House (destroyed 1941).
Commemorative medals by Hancock, Webb, P. Wyon, Halliday, Ingram and Thomas Wyon, are all based on Nollekens as are the cameos, intaglio gems and medallions by W. Brown, Marchant and others flooding the market after Pitt's death.

Provenanceback to top

Given by the Earl Granville 1861 inherited from his father, a personal friend of Pitt (letter in NPG archive).

Reproductionsback to top

(Of the original)
(1) large mezzotint by John Young, bust on pedestal in niche, '… from a Bust, Modelled after Life by J. Nollekins R.A. From a drawing by G. A. Kernan … London Published Jany 1st 1808 …', issued as a companion to the mezzotint of Nollekens bust of C. J. Fox (John Chaloner Smith, British Mezzotint Portraits, 26 and 59). The mole where Pitt's nose joins his left eyebrow is clearly shown in the mezzotint but less so in the NPG marble. (2) large stipple by Knight dedicated to the King and published 1809.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, 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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