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Unknown man, formerly known as Matthew Prior

11 of 166 portraits by Michael Dahl

Unknown man, formerly known as Matthew Prior, by Michael Dahl, 1713 -NPG 3682 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Stuart Portraits Catalogue

Unknown man, formerly known as Matthew Prior

attributed to Michael Dahl
1713
30 in. x 25 in. (762 mm x 635 mm) oval
NPG 3682

This portraitback to top

The scar on the forehead does not recur elsewhere in Prior portraiture, but the identity of NPG 3682 seems justified by comparison with his other portraits (its rejection in Complete Illustrated Catalogue, NPG, ed. J. Simon & D. Saywell, 2004, p 697, where it is described as of an unknown sitter, appears hyper-cautious).
The old lining canvas was inscribed: Mathew Prior./by Dahl./1713., probably copied from the original canvas. Prior had left England for Paris in August 1712, suggesting the portrait was completed after his departure (or, less likely, that the inscribed date is inaccurate).
The attribution, which appears perfectly reasonable, was evidently doubted by Joshua Reynolds; on 20 April 1784 Horace Walpole wrote to Lord Harcourt about this portrait, which he considered ‘an uncommonly fine head’, that ‘at first sight I merely supposed the Prior was painted by old Dahl, but I dare to say Sir Joshua is in the right’. [1]

Footnotesback to top

1) Wal. Corr., XXXV, p 536.

Referenceback to top

Catalogue of Pictures belonging to Lord Harcourt at Nuneham Park, 1806, no.14.

Harcourt (ed.) 1880-1905
E. W. Harcourt ed., The Harcourt Papers, 14 vols, 1880-1905, III, p 250.

Nisser 1927
W. Nisser, Michael Dahl, 1927, cat. pp 36-37, no.120a.

Piper 1963
D. Piper, Catalogue of the Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery 1625-1714, 1963, p 287.

Simon & Saywell (eds.) 2004
Complete Illustrated Catalogue, NPG, ed. J. Simon & D. Saywell, 2004, p 697 as unknown sitter.

Sir George Scharf’s Sketch Books, 75:56.

Welbeck 1936
R. W. Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures belonging to … the Duke of Portland …, C. K. Adams ed., p 382.

Provenanceback to top

Given to Lord Harcourt by the 2nd Earl of Oxford;1 the Earls of Harcourt, Nuneham Park,2 by 1784; Nuneham Park sale, Christie’s, 11 June 1948, lot 102; D. Reder (Pictura Ltd), from whom purchased 1949.

1 R. W. Goulding, Catalogue of Pictures belonging to … the Duke of Portland …, C.K. Adams ed., 1936, p 382.
2 Frequently stated to have come to the Lords Harcourt from Prior himself via Lord Oxford (Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of), see, for example, W. Nisser, Michael Dahl, 1927, cat. pp 36-37, no.120a; W. S. Lewis, Wal. Corr., XXXV, p 536.

Exhibitionsback to top

Second Special Exhibition of National Portraits ( ... William and Mary to MDCCC), South Kensington, 1867, no.141; Royal House of Guelph, New Gallery, London, 1891, no.249; Marlborough and the Reign of Queen Anne, Chesterfield House, London, 1934, no.451.

Reproductionsback to top

G. W. Rhead 1889 (reduced oval).1

1 Frontispiece for A. Dobson ed., Prior’s Selected Poems, 1889, with a note saying: ‘the original had belonged to Prior himself, and was given by the Earl of Oxford to Lord Harcourt’.


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.

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