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William Wordsworth

William Wordsworth, by Henry William Pickersgill, circa 1850 -NPG 104 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

William Wordsworth

by and after Henry William Pickersgill
circa 1850
85 1/2 in. x 52 1/2 in. (2172 mm x 1334 mm)
NPG 104

This portraitback to top

The portrait was probably painted posthumously as a business venture (Frances Blanshard, Portraits of Wordsworth, 1959, p 102) and makes use of a chalk drawing of the head 1832 and a three-quarter-length oil 1832-3 both in St John's College Cambridge, and the subject of Wordsworth's sonnet Go faithful Portrait! Four small copies were made for the family and friends, possibly by Pickersgill's son, and a variant of 1840 for Sir Robert Peel, now at Dove Cottage. The NPG whole-length shows the poet in a formal black suit instead of his academic robe and was exhibited RA 1851 where it was seen by Sara Coleridge who echoed the general dislike: 'Pickersgill's portrait of our dear departed great poet is insufferable - velvet waistcoat, neat shiny boots - just the sort of dress he would not have worn if you could have hired him - and a sombre sentimentalism of countenance quite unlike his own look, which was either elevated with high gladness or deep thought, or at times simply and childishly gruff - but never tender after that fashion, so lackadaisical and mawkishly sentimental' (Memoirs and Letters of Sara Coleridge, 1873, II, p 416). The modern verdict is unchanged: '… the average portraits of him in the later years of his life, apart from Haydon's, seem trite and almost impertinent. Pickersgill's painting in the NPG … is better than most, yet it is tame and shows the poet tamed' (David Piper, The Image of the Poet, 1982, p 124).
If Pickersgill had hopes of making a fortune from it they were dashed. The NPG eventually offered him £100 which he accepted 'with some reluctance and it is only under the consideration of it being preserved to all time' (letter to Scharf 9 June 1860 in NPG archive). Knight listed it as a replica of Peel's portrait, Schneider as a variant, and Mrs Blanshard was the first to notice the significance of the 'shiny boots' mentioned in Sara's letter, thus fixing it as the portrait exhibited at the RA in 1851.

Physical descriptionback to top

Whole-length seated in black suit, white shirt and high collar, black neckcloth and bow-tie, black boots or shoes, holding silver pencil-case in right hand, left on paper with a red-lined cap; dark grey eyes, sparse silvery hair and whiskers, ruddy complexion, pale red lips; poppy and spear thistle in right foreground, foxglove to left, trees, rocks and mountain mists in background.

Provenanceback to top

H. W. Pickersgill and bought from him in 1860.

Exhibitionsback to top

RA 1851 (184).

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 Henry William Pickersgill

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