Jacob Tonson I
1 of 5 portraits of Jacob Tonson I
- Extended catalogue entry
Later Stuart Portraits Catalogue
Jacob Tonson I
by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Bt
36 in. x 28 in. (914 mm x 711 mm)
Inscriptionback to top
Signed and dated, bottom right: GKneller/1717 (GK in monogram)
This portraitback to top
The Kit-Cat Club portrait. Painted as the Club was ending, Tonson is portrayed in his secretarial chair, ‘to which presiding Authority, as most believe, he owes the Stateliness of his Brow, and the Haughtiness of his Temper’.  He holds up the famous illustrated 4th edition of Milton’s Paradise Lost published in 1688, the work which first brought him wealth and fame.  Tonson stayed on good terms with Kneller (a near neighbour) who allegedly commented: ‘How old Jacob loves me; he is a very good man; you see how he loves me, he sends me good things and the venison was fat’. 
A copy in the collection of John Murray came from the Grosvenor Bedford sale, Christie’s, 1 March 1861, lot 37. A plumbago copy by A. B. Lens, signed and dated 1734, is in the British Museum (1942.0314.1). 
An earlier, untraced, portrait of Tonson by Kneller was mentioned in a letter to Matthew Prior, 14 July 1698: ‘Kneller has drawn at length the picture of your friend Jacob Tonson’. 
Footnotesback to top
1) E. Ward, The Secret History of Clubs, 1709, pp 360-67.
2) ‘Distinguished by excellent paper, large, clear type, and ample margins … the first illustrated edition of Milton’ (Kathleen Lynch, Jacob Tonson Kit-Cat Publisher, 1971, p 128).
3) [J. Richardson jr.], Richardsoniana, 1776, p 244, the authority for the story is said to have been Pope (see D. Piper, Catalogue of the Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery 1625-1714, 1963, p 400n4).
4) From the Wellesley collection, Sotheby’s, 4th day, 4 July 1920, lot 527; exhibited French Taste in English Painting, Kenwood, 1968, no.47.
5) From Richard Powys; HMC Longleat, III, 1908, pp 238-39; the letter continues to say that underneath the portrait Dryden had written satiric verses. D. Piper, Catalogue of the Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery 1625-1714, 1963, p 400n4, quotes ‘an early anecdote’ that Tonson had received from Kneller ‘a great many fine pictures, and two of himself’.
Referenceback to top
O. Millar in M. Whinney & O. Millar, English Art 1625-1714, 1957, p 197.
D. Piper, Catalogue of the Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery 1625-1714, 1963, pp 346-47.
J. D. Stewart, Godfrey Kneller, 1983, no.753.
Exhibitionsback to top
Art Treasures, Manchester, 1857, British Portrait Gallery 264; Second Special Exhibition of National Portraits ( ... William and Mary to MDCCC), South Kensington, 1867, no.147; Royal House of Guelph, New Gallery, London, 1891, no.274; Portrait in British Art, NPG, 1991, no.12; Paradise Lost, Grasmere, 1994.
Reproductionsback to top
J. Faber II 1733 (J. Chaloner Smith, British Mezzotinto Portraits, 208/43).
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.