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Jonathan Swift

2 of 26 portraits of Jonathan Swift

Jonathan Swift, by Charles Jervas, circa 1718 -NPG 278 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Later Stuart Portraits Catalogue

Jonathan Swift

by Charles Jervas
circa 1718
48 1/2 in. x 38 1/4 in. (1232 mm x 972 mm)
NPG 278

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed on edge of the table: Jn. Swift, D.D.; to the left stand four books, lettered: Quixote, Aesop, Horace and Lucian.1

1 Fourdrinier’s engraving shows two additional slim volumes on the extreme left, one entitled Milton, and the open book complete; as a result ‘the figure is centred and the composition is balanced’ as Woolley observed (D. Woolley ed., The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, II, p 592n2 where he also refers to an engraver’s proof of the unfinished plate in the ‘Bathurst volume’, Pierpont Morgan Library, New York). It is also possible that NPG 278 may have shown this slightly extended composition before lining in 1911.

This portraitback to top

The second Jervas portrait of Swift, painted in Ireland in 1718-19. Jervas was in Ireland from the summer of 1717 to September 1721, possibly returning briefly to London late in 1718. [1] Swift was in Ireland throughout that period. Compared with the earlier Jervas portrait (see NPG 4407), this presents a more engaging image (the head now leans a little towards his right shoulder, the eyes are wider, and the clerical bands are curled).
NPG 278 is now the only known three-quarter-length version as engraved by P. Fourdrinier, and it could therefore be the original portrait; the quality would support this. But the earlier history is not clear, and the Fourdrinier plate was described by Faulkner in 1768 as from a portrait then belonging to the Earl of Chesterfield, [2] probably the three-quarter-length of Swift by Jervas in the 2nd Earl of Oxford’s sale in 1742, [3] and now, reduced to a half-length, in the Sterling Library, London University (from Chesterfield House). [4]
The Oxford portrait was mentioned in letters from Jervas, Swift and the 2nd Earl of Oxford between 1723 and 1725. In 1723-24 Jervas told Lord Harley (as he then was) ‘When I gave orders to have the frame to our Dean’s picture put on, I recollected that the engraver is to be with me next week to endeavour to make something more like than that done by Mr Vertue for John Barber [see NPG 4407], besides it is a half length [now called a three-quarter-length], and the former is a simple busto [now called a half-length]’. [5] On 26 July 1725 Lord Oxford (as he had become) told Swift (from Dover Street, London), ‘I have the pleasure of seeing a picture which is very like you every day, and is as good a picture as ever Jarvis painted’; Swift answered (14 August 1725) ‘I hope the Picture of me in Your House is the same Mr Jervas drew in Ireland, and carryed over, because it is more like me by severall years than another he drew in London’; on 30 August Lord Oxford confirmed that his picture was ‘the same which Mr Jarvis drew of you in Ireland, and it is very like you, and is a very good picture’. [6]
Half-length versions include a studio version in the National Gallery of Ireland (177); [7] and a version formerly with Lord Bessborough, engraved as a half-length by A. Warren in 1821 (Bessborough sale, 2nd day, 11 July 1850, lot 178). Copies were sold Christie’s, 12 May 2005, lot 87 and presented to St Patrick’s Hospital, Dublin, in 1932. [8]
Two portraits of Swift (a kit-cat and a half-length) were in the Jervas sale, 11-20 March 1740, lots 23 and 80 respectively.

Footnotesback to top

1) H. Williams ed., Swift, Journal to Stella, 1963-65, II, pp 300n7, 308, 402. D. Woolley ed., The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, II, p 195n3 stated Jervas stayed in Ireland all the time 1717-21 (there being no further evidence for Jervas’s return to London late in 1718 following the suggestion by Swift in his letter to Ford, 20 December 1718; D. Woolley ed., The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, II, no.488).
2) G. Faulkner ed., Swift’s Works, 1768, XIX, 73n, see D. Woolley ed., The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, II, p 592n2.
3) Oxford sale, 3rd day, 10 March 1742, lot 37 Dean Swift by Mr Jarvis [half-length, i.e. 127 x 101 cm], bought Boden, who often acted for Lord Chesterfield.
4) D. Piper, ‘The Chesterfield House Literary Portraits’, in R. Wellek & A. Ribeiro eds., Essays in Memory of James Marshall Osborn, 1979, p 191, no.13, pl.25; presumably cut-down from a three-quarters, though there is now no sign of the gown having once been blue and there are detailed differences from the Fourdrinier plate in the folds of the drapery and the curls of the wig, see D. Woolley ed., The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, II, pls 8, 9, where print and painting are illus. side by side. G. Vertue, Notebooks, Wal. Soc., XXVI, 1938, p 70, recorded Lord Chesterfield collecting portraits of poets for his new library; some were originals and many others ‘Coppyd to the size he wants’.
5) HMC Portland, V, 1899, p 638.
6) H. Williams ed., The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, 1963-65, III, pp 84, 85,92; D. Woolley ed., The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, II, nos.660, 661, 666.
7) N. Figgis & B. Rooney, Irish Paintings in the National Gallery of Ireland, 2001, pp 309-10; acquired from the Berwick collection 1875.
8) Ibid., p 310.

Referenceback to top

Piper 1963
D. Piper, Catalogue of the Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery 1625-1714, 1963, p 278.

Woolley (ed.), n.d..
D. Woolley ed., The Correspondence of Jonathan Swift, II, p 592n2.

Provenanceback to top

The Earl of Huntingdon, Donington Hall, Leics., 1788 (as Swift by Kneller);1 by descent to the 4th Marquess of Hastings; Donington sale, Christie’s, 25 February 1869, lot 83, bought Graves for the NPG.2

1 MS Inventory, Huntington Library, San Marino CA.
2 Graves told the Chairman of Trustees, W. Smith, ‘Swift was knock’d down to me at 50 gns but claimed afterwards by another person & it rose to 100 gns & I got it 50 gns less than I should have given myself’ (letter of 25 February 1869; NPG archive).

Exhibitionsback to top

Aspects of Irish Art, Columbus OH, Toledo OH, St Louis MI, 1974, no.30; The World of Alexander Pope, Yale Center for British Art, 1988, no.31.

Reproductionsback to top

P. Fourdrinier c.1722–23.

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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