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Joseph Priestley

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

Joseph Priestley

by Ellen Sharples, probably after James Sharples
circa 1797
9 1/2 in. x 7 3/8 in. (243 mm x 187 mm)
NPG 175

This portraitback to top

After reaching America in 1974 Prisetly settled in Northumberland, Pa.; the Sharples portraits show him a lonely man, soon after losing his wife (1796) and youngest son (1795).
For the complexities of the Sharples practice, see Washington NPG 174. Taylor's step-daughters were 'not sure whether his pastels of Priestley and Washington were the work of Mr or Mrs Sharples, but as her name is on the back there seems no doubt they are hers'; [1] Yates described NPG 175 (rather too confidently?) as 'drawn at Philadelphia by Mrs Sharples soon after Dr Priestley's arrival there'.
The original portrait was drawn in America, where the Sharples arrived in 1796, two years after Priestley. Copies include those in the NPG Washington (NPG.77.160), [2] two in the Sharples collection in Bristol Art Gallery [3] and NPG 2904. An indifferent copy in oils belonging to James Walton was exhibited in America in 1886-87. [4]
Ellen Sharples recorded copying her husband’s portrait of Priestley in December 1804; [5] she exhibited two miniatures of him RA 1807 (851 and 920), probably copies of this same pattern, although there was also a Sharples profile.

Footnotesback to top

1) Letter from Catharine Finch to James Yates, 11 December 1860 (NPG archive); but Mrs Sharples' name is no longer visible on the back of either the Priestly or the Washington (NPG 174).
2) Attributed to James Sharples.
3) K. McC. Knox, The Sharples, 1930, pp 99, 100 (one by Ellen Sharples, the other by either James or Ellen or both); Cat. of the Sharples Coll., Bristol, 1910, nos.22, 66 (one by James Sharples, the other by Ellen).
4) H. C. Bolton, 'The Likenesses of Priestley in oil, ink, marble and metal', in Scientific Correspondence of Joseph Priestley, 1892, p 182; K. McC. Knox, The Sharples, 1930, p 64; photograph in the NPG archive.
5) K. McC. Knox, The Sharples, 1930, p 118.

Referenceback to top

Bolton 1892
H. C. Bolton, ‘The Likenesses of Priestley in oil, ink, marble and metal’, in Scientific Correspondence of Joseph Priestley, 1892, p 182 (as by Mrs Sharples).

Knox 1930
K. McC.Knox, The Sharples, 1930, p 101 (as by Mrs Sharples).

Yates 1960
J. Yates, Memorials of Dr Priestley from the Christian Reformer, 1860, no.17 (as by Mrs Sharples).

Physical descriptionback to top

Blue eyes, greying hair, black suit, white collar and neckcloth; blue background with the hint of a curtain.

Provenanceback to top

William Taylor; his step-daughters, the Misses Eaton, of Liverpool and Leamington, by whom given to the sitter’s grand-daughter, Miss Catharine I. Finch of Birmingham, who gave it to James Yates (1789-1871)1 1860; presented by him, with a portrait of George Washington [NPG 174], 1864.

1 The distinguished unitarian and antiquary, treasurer of the appeal for the Stephens statue of Priestley at Oxford in 1860 and a collector of Priestley MSS, which he bequeathed to the Royal Society (see H. C. Bolton, 'The Likenesses of Priestley in oil, ink, marble, and metal', in Scientific Correspondence of Joseph Priestley, 1892, p 192). The provenance is given in a letter to Yates from Catherine Finch, 11 December 1860 (NPG archive).

Exhibitionsback to top

Priestley, Dr Williams's Library 1860 (17); Apples to Atoms, Portraits of Scientists from Newton to Rutherford, NPG travelling exhibition, Science Museum, Norwich, Grasmere, Coalbrookdale, 1986-87.


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 Joseph Priestley