The Gallery holds the most extensive collection of portraits in the world. Search over 215,000 works, 150,000 of which are illustrated from the 16th Century to the present day.

Advanced Collection search

James Watt

James Watt, by Henry Howard, circa 1797 -NPG 663 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

James Watt

by Henry Howard
circa 1797
7 1/2 in. x 5 1/4 in. (191 mm x 146 mm)
NPG 663

This portraitback to top

NPG 663 is one of four small bust-length portraits on panel by Howard given to the NPG by Martin in 1882-83, the others being of William Hayley (NPG 662), John Flaxman (NPG 674) and Mrs Anne Flaxman (NPG 675). [1] All, it appears, belonged to John Flaxman, who had first met the painter in Rome in 1792-94. Martin told Scharf that NPG 662 and NPG 663 had ‘belonged to Flaxman & hung on his walls till his death, along with the fine portraits of himself [NPG 674] by Howard, which you have seen in my house’. [2]
All four portraits may be dated c.1797. Howard exhibited a portrait of Flaxman at the RA that year and his comparable bust-length panel of John Constable is dated 1797; [3] in 1882 Scharf described NPG 663 as painted before the artist’s election as RA in 1808. [4]

Footnotesback to top

1) See R. J. B. Walker, National Portrait Gallery, Regency Portraits, I, pp 187, 189, 241, II, pls.432, 440, 553.
2) Letter of 19 August 1882 (NPG archive).
3) Exhibited Constable, Tate Gallery, 1976 (1).
4) NPG 25th Annual Report 1882, pp 4-5.

Referenceback to top

Dickinson & Jenkins 1927
H. W. Dickinson & R. Jenkins, James Watt and the Steam Engine, 1927, pp 85, 88.1

1 Erroneously described as dateable c.1860 (thirteen years after Howard's death), and as based on the Nicholson etching of 1819.

Physical descriptionback to top

Grey eyes, grey wig, plain brown coat, black waistcoat; grey-green background.

Provenanceback to top

Said to have belonged to John Flaxman;1 bought by Sir Theodore Martin at an unidentified Christie’s sale through Richard Lane (a mixed lot, ‘five heads various’),2 and presented by him 1882.

1 Not identifiable in the sales of Flaxman’s adopted daughter, Maria Denman, in 1862 and 1876.
2 Letter from Martin to Scharf, 19 August 1882 (NPG archive).

Exhibitionsback to top

Watt Centenary, Science Museum, 1919-20; Watt Bicentenary, Science Museum, London, 1936 (3); Chantrey, NPG, Sheffield, 1981.

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 James Watt


Pioneer Podcasts

Listen to a series of podcasts exploring the lives of pioneering women, past and present.

Explore the podcasts

Untitled, c.1973 (Alex Chilton) by William Eggleston © Eggleston Artistic Trust

Eggleston Playlist

William Eggleston was closely associated with the alternative music scene in Memphis. Revisit our 2016 exhibition and listen to a special playlist.

Listen to the playlist

Archive interviews

Links to audio and transcripts of interviews with artists, sitters and historic recordings.

Watch, listen and read