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James Wolfe

1 of 7 portraits by Joseph Wilton

James Wolfe, by Joseph Wilton, circa 1760 -NPG 4415 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Early Georgian Portraits Catalogue

James Wolfe

by Joseph Wilton
circa 1760
29 5/8 in. x 23 1/4 in. (754 mm x 590 mm) overall
NPG 4415

This portraitback to top

NPG 4415 is apparently the earliest and least idealised of surviving busts by Wilton. The original was possibly a commission from the Duke of Richmond who 'had a mind to have a statue of General Wolfe. Wilton, the statuary went down to Portsmouth, [1] and opened the coffin newly brought over to try to take off his face but it was too much distorted. They found out a servant of Lord Gower who was like Wolfe, and Wilton was ordered to model his face, and Lord Edgcumbe was to correct it from memory.' [2]
After a successful period of study in Rome, Naples and Florence, Wilton (1722-1803) returned to England in 1755, and in 1758, with his friend Giovanni Battista Cipriani, the decorative painter, was chosen co-director of the gallery of painting and sculpture opened 'for gratuitous instruction to students' by Charles Lennox, 3rd Duke of Richmond and Lennox, in his house at Whitehall. [3] No bust is recorded at Goodwood, and if one had been completed for the Duke, it was perhaps lost in the fire of 1791 which destroyed the London house. The only 'statue' known is the monument of 1772 in Westminster Abbey (see All Known Portraits).
A comparison with the fine marble, undated but inscribed with the artist's name, at Dalmeny [4], and the bronze cast from the Westerham plaster (see NPG 2225), shows the head in NPG 4415 less erect and a differently shaped gorget lying bent between the planes of the curiass and sash. The Westerham type lacks the gorget. All Wilton's surviving sculpture have the sloping forehead and receding chin of Smyth's profile. [5] NPG 4415 appears to be the most naturalistic in treatment.

Footnotesback to top

1) The body reached Portsmouth, November 1759.
2) H. Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford, Anecdotes of Painting in England ... collected by ... George Vertue; digested ... by Horace Walpole, edited J. Dalloway and R. N. Wornum, 1862, V, p 156.
3) Dictionary of National Biography, XXI, p 623.
4) Exhibited 'Some Portraits of General Wolfe 1727-1759', NPG, 1959 (9); J. F. Kerslake, 'The Likeness of Wolfe', Wolfe, Portraiture & Genealogy, Quebec House, 1959, reproduced pl.22.
5) J. F. Kerslake, 'The Likeness of Wolfe', Wolfe, Portraiture & Genealogy, Quebec House, 1959, pp 40-41.

Physical descriptionback to top

Pupils incised, long finely marked eyebrows, receding chin, hair swept back from forehead, falling in a queue over his right shoulder; classical armour with punning device of wolf's head shoulder pieces, gorget, sash over his left shoulder.

Conservationback to top

Colour variations between dark grey and light putty suggest use of paint when executed; small cracks in his left shoulder and elsewhere.

Provenanceback to top

Bought, 1964, from H. M. Calmann of Bruton Place; earlier history unknown.

This extended catalogue entry is from the out-of-print National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1977, 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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