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William Wilberforce

4 of 33 portraits of William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce, by George Richmond, 1833 -NPG 4997 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

William Wilberforce

by George Richmond
1833
17 1/4 in. x 13 in. (438 mm x 330 mm)
NPG 4997

Inscriptionback to top

Signed and dated lower right in red paint: George Richmond delnt 1833.
Inscribed on a label on the back in ink by the artist: No 3./William Wilberforce Esq./by George Richmond/16 Beaumont Street/Devonshire Place (probably for the RA exhibition 1833), and in ink on the wood backing: This Picture is to be delivered to/Miss Marianne Thornton/at my death/Mary Inglis.

This portraitback to top

The portrait was begun at Battersea Rise in 1832 and is mentioned in both Wilberforce's Diary for 13 November: 'yesterday ... by Sir Robt's desire I sat to Richmond for a long time for my picture' (transcript in NPG archive) and in the Life of William Wilberforce by his sons who describe a ruse to induce him to sit still:

During his stay there [Battersea Rise, autumn 1832] Mr Richmond took his admirable picture. This began whilst he was joining in general conversation, but it was found impossible to fix him in the necessary position until an ingenious device succeeded. Mr Forster [Rev C. Forster, chaplain to the Bishop of Limerick], who was staying in the house, undertook to draw him into argument. "Pray, Mr Wilberforce," he began as he sat by him, "is it true that the last accounts from the West Indies prove that the slaves are on the whole so much better off than they were thought to be, that you have much altered your views as to slavery?" "Mr Forster" he replied with sudden animation, "I am astonished at you. What! a sensible man like you believe such reports? Why, sir, they flog them with a whip as thick as my arm," grasping it as he spoke. A most animated conversation followed and Mr Forster was not convinced until Richmond's happy likeness was secured.
A different account is given in the Richmond Papers:

At this date Wilberforce, seventy-four years of age, frail and slight, was become almost a cripple, so one day his nephews [a mistake for sons], who adored him, gently forced him into a chair and then lifted him, chair and all, on to the dining-room table, for he stooped so much that only in an elevated position was it possible to get a good view of his features. They then rushed off to find Mr Richmond, shouting, "Come, Mr Richmond, and paint uncle! We've got him in a chair on a table and he can't get away!" (Stirling, Richmond Papers, p 37, where also is described Wilberforce's curious mannerism of winding the hands of his two watches).
Three portraits are mentioned in the Richmond Account Book (copy in NPG library):
(1) '1832 to Mr Wilberforce whole length £13.8.0 engraved by S. Cousins 200 guineas' (p 7). This is NPG 4997. Richmond said later 'I owe everything to Sir Robert Inglis, for it was he who put my foot on the first rung of the ladder.' It was exhibited RA 1833, the label on back probably being written specially for the occasion. Cousins's mezzotint was published 20 May 1834: 'it is curious to think it was engraved by Samuel Cousins at the cost of 200 guineas, sold immensely, yet for the original picture I received but £13.8s; but it was a turning point in my professional life, and made me largely known to a wide circle of very excellent people, the friends and admirers of W. Wilberforce.' (Stirling, Richmond Papers, p 38).
(2) 'May 1834 Oil painting of Mr Wilberforce for St John's College, Cambridge £52.10.0’ see NPG 3 by Lawrence.
(3) '1843 Copy of Mr Wilberforce for Lord Carrington £73.10.0’ (p 34). This is probably the undated copy of NPG 4997, now in the House of Commons, sold with the Carrington heirlooms, Christie's 9 May 1930 (58).
A small drawing, possibly the preliminary sketch made in the dining-room at Battersea Rise, at one time in the collection of Sir Charles Eastlake, was offered to the NPG [by R. G. Thornton] in 1974. Although there is ample evidence for Richmond's portrait being ad vivum he was clearly influenced by Lawrence's unfinished oil (NPG 3) with which he must have been familiar as it belonged to his friend and patron Sir Robert Inglis, and of which he even made copies.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length seated askew in a crimson upholstered armchair, black coat, knee breeches, stockings and shoes, blue handkerchief across his legs, eyeglass in both hands; thick grey hair, dark blue eyes, ruddy lips and complexion; bookcase in left background, green curtain to right.

Provenanceback to top

Commissioned by Sir Robert Inglis 1832, bequeathed by his widow Mary Inglis to Marianne Thornton who gave it to Wilberforce's son Samuel, then by descent to his granddaughter Dr Octavia Hill and her sale King & Chasemore, Pulborough 12 June 1974 (1273), bought for the NPG by Leggatt Brothers.

Exhibitionsback to top

RA 1833 (538).

Reproductionsback to top

Mezzotint by Samuel Cousins 1834 (Alfred Whitman, Samuel Cousins, 1904, 175) and small stipples by Finden, Scriven and Jenkins.


This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: Richard Walker, Regency Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, 1985, 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 George Richmond

View all known portraits for William Wilberforce