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'Two sketches for 'Men of Science Living in 1807-8'

'Two sketches for 'Men of Science Living in 1807-8', by Sir John Gilbert, circa 1856 -NPG 1383a - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Regency Portraits Catalogue

'Two sketches for 'Men of Science Living in 1807-8'

by Sir John Gilbert
circa 1856
9 5/8 in. x 14 1/8 in. (245 mm x 358 mm); 10 7/8 in. x 14 1/2 in. (277 mm x 367 mm)
NPG 1383a

This portraitback to top

For the following resumé I am indebted to Dr Clow's pioneering examination of the subject in Annals of Science, September 1956.
Although the picture is entitled 'Distinguished Men of Science 1807-8' it is in fact a Victorian concoction conceived in about 1856 and published as an engraving in 1862. Described in a letter from William Walker's son (of the same name) to the NPG:

The Drawing of the "Distinguished Men of Science living in 1808" was the last work my Father was engaged on. Sir John Gilbert designed the grouping & general effect. J. F. Skill then worked on the drawing & my Father finished it, the greatest care was taken in getting the likenesses correct & every available means employed so that the likenesses remained almost standards. My Father then engraved the plate with the assistance of George Zobel. The idea of the work was his own conception & altogether occupied six years in carrying out.
(Letter from William Walker to Lionel Cust 12 November 1896, MS in NPG archive.)

Walker and Gilbert had already combined to produce the engraving of 'The Aberdeen Cabinet Deciding upon the Expedition to the Crimea in 1854', published in 1857, and this new venture was begun at about that time. Dr Clow suggests that a further incentive may have been the publication in 1845-6 of Lord Brougham's essay, Lives of Men of Letters and Science in the Time of George III. Gilbert's original sketches (NPG 1383a) with their revealing titles disclose its evolution from little more than a jotting to the final engraving - six years during which, although the basic design remained static, several changes were made in the choice of figures to be included. The Swedish chemist Berzilius was replaced by Dundonald who in turn gave way to William Smith. Peel was replaced by Ronalds, Beaufort and later Fourdrinier were removed, and four newcomers added: Chapman, Frodsham, Troughton and Watson. The final selection demonstrates the Victorian definition of 'Men of Science' as being in fact 'Men of Technology'. The focal point is James Watt and a group of engineers surrounded by chemists and physicists.
The choice of venue is significant. Although over half the sitters are Fellows of the Royal Society they are assembled in the library of the Royal Institution under the great convex glass, a considerable technical feat at the time, still in position there today. The signatures were carefully copied by Walker from various sources and transferred first to the drawing then to the engraved plate. His letter of 19 November 1858 to the Secretary of the Royal Society asks for permission to trace with a soft lead pencil signatures of 26 Fellows: Allen, Baily, Banks, Berzilius, Brown, Brunel, Cartwright, Cavendish, Dalton, Davy, Gilbert, Hatchett, Henry, Herschel, Huddart, Jenner, Kater, Leslie, Maskelyne, Playfair, Rennie, Ronalds, Rumford, Watt, Wollaston, Young (Royal Society Misc. Corr., 5, p 372). It has been possible to find the origins of most of the portraits. A great deal of trouble was taken by Walker to make use of suitable originals, the only failure being Bramah who had to be shown back view. An advertisement for the project dated 4 June 1862, the date of publication of the engraving, says:

The Portraits are in every possible case taken from Originals of the greatest merit, and Mr Walker thankfully acknowledges the aid extended to him by many private Gentlemen, especially Dr William Sharpey (Secretary of the Royal Society) and Mr Woodcroft (Superintendent of the Patent Office) by whom every facility has been offered for making copies from many unique originals in the Patent Museum and Portrait Gallery formed by him.
Except for the daguerreotype of Donkin and a photograph of Ronalds, probably by Walker himself, they were mostly engravings from paintings, drawings or miniatures, which were then copied or adapted by Frederick Skill and arranged in the groups decided on by Gilbert.
In 1864-5 William Walker and his two sons were considering a companion picture, 'Men of Science Living in 1846-7', many of the portraits to be based on photographs taken in their own studio in Margaret Street: 'there is a real advantage in doing this because I take several views of the countenance in the right light and shade best suited for my purpose of grouping ...'. Letters in the Royal Society library intimate that Sir John Herschel was to be the central figure of this group; an appointment was made at the studio for 26 July 1865 (Herschel Letters, 18, pp 18-20). Walker died in 1867 and the project was never completed.
The following scientists, listed alphabetically, are represented in either the drawings or the engraving. Those marked with an asterisk [*] are included in the main Catalogue. The sources of the portraits are given in William Walker's Memoirs.

ALLEN, William (1770-1843) KEY 17
Chemist. Portrait based on an oil by Madame M. Astronomer Romilly, engraved Darton (see Richard Ormond, National Portrait Gallery: Early Victorian Portraits, 1973, p 538).
*BAILY, Francis (1774-1844) KEY 1
BANKS, Sir Joseph, Bart (1743-1820) KEY 13
President of the Royal Society 1778-1820. Freely adapted from an oil by Thomas Phillips in the Royal Society. Banks's face is slightly disfigured by splashes of wash (see forthcoming NPG Catalogue of Portraits 1760-90).
BEAUFORT, Admiral Sir Francis (1774-1857)
Hydrographer. He appears in Gilbert's preliminary drawing only.
BENTHAM, Sir Samuel (1757-1831) KEY 27
Naval architect. Portrait based on a miniature by Murphy (see forthcoming NPG Catalogue of Portraits 1760-90).
BERZELIUS, Jons Jakob (1779-1848)
Swedish chemist. He appears in Gilbert's preliminary drawing only.
BOULTON, Matthew (1728-1809) KEY 25
Engineer. Portrait based on an oil by Beechey, engraved Cardon (see forthcoming NPG Catalogue of Portraits 1760-90).
*BRAMAH, Joseph (1748-1814) KEY 50
Machine inventor
BROWN, Robert (1773-1858) KEY 11
Botanist. Portrait based on an oil by H. W. Pickersgill engraved Fox (see Richard Ormond, National Portrait Gallery: Early Victorian Portraits, 1973, p 66).
*BRUNEL, Sir Marc Isambard (1769-1849) KEY 24
Civil engineer
*CARTWRIGHT, Edmund (1743-1823) KEY 44
Machine inventor
CAVENDISH, Henry (1731-1810) KEY 18
Physicist. Portrait based on a drawing by Tomlinson (see forthcoming NPG Catalogue of Portraits 1760-90).
*CHAPMAN, William (1749-1832) KEY 35
Civil engineer. Portrait based on a drawing perhaps by John Opie. He appears in the engraving only.
*CONGREVE, Sir William, Bart (1772-1828) KEY 38
Military engineer
*CROMPTON, Samuel (1753-1827) KEY 39
Machine inventor
*DALTON, John (1766-1844) KEY 23
Chemist and nuclear physicist
*DAVY, Sir Humphry (1778-1829) KEY 22
DOLLOND, Peter (1730-1820) KEY 6
Optician. Based on an oil by John Hoppner, engraved Thomson (see forthcoming NPG Catalogue of Portraits 1760-90).
*DONKIN, Bryan (1768-1855) KEY 40
Civil engineer
*DUNDONALD, Archibald Cochrane, 9th Earl of (1749-1831)
Chemist. He appears in the drawing only, not the engraving.
*FOURDRINIER, Henry (1766-1854)
Paper maker. He appears in the drawing only, not the engraving.
*FRODSHAM, William James (1778-1850) KEY 2
Chronometer maker. He appears in the engraving only, not the drawing.
*GILBERT, Davies (1767-1839) KEY 12
President of the Royal Society 1827-30
*HATCHETT, Charles (1765-1847) KEY 21
*HENRY, William (1774-1836) KEY 19
*HERSCHEL, Sir William (1738-1822) KEY 7
*HOWARD, Edward Charles (1774-1816) KEY 16
Sugar refiner
*HUDDART, Captain Joseph (1741-1816) KEY 29
*JENNER, Edward (1749-1823) KEY 9
Discoverer of vaccination
*JESSOP, William (1745-1814) KEY 36
Civil engineer
*KATER, Captain Henry (1777-1835) KEY 14
*LESLIE, Sir John (1766-1832) KEY 3
MASKELYNE, Nevil (1732-1811) KEY 8
Astronomer. Portrait based on a pastel by John Russell (see forthcoming NPG Catalogue of Portraits 1760-90).
*MAUDSLAY, Henry (1771-1831) KEY 26
MILLER, Patrick (1731-1815) KEY 47
Pioneer of steam navigation. Portrait based on an oil by Alexander Nasmyth (see forthcoming NPG Catalogue of Portraits 1760-90).
*MURDOCK, William (1754-1839) KEY 33
Inventor of gas lighting
MYLNE, Robert (1734-1811) KEY 37
Architect and civil engineer. Portrait based on a miniature (see forthcoming NPG Catalogue of Portraits 1760-90).
*NASMYTH, Alexander (1758-1840) KEY 48
Artist and engineer
PEEL, Sir Robert, 1st Bart (1750-1830)
Calico printer and cotton spinner; father of the Prime Minister. He appears in Gilbert's preliminary drawing only.
*PLAYFAIR, John (1748-1819) KEY 4
Mathematician and geologist
*RENNIE, John (1761-1821) KEY 34
Civil engineer
RONALDS, Sir Francis (1788-1873) KEY 45
Electrician. Portrait based on a photograph by William Walker (see Richard Ormond, National Portrait Gallery: Early Victorian Portraits, 1973, p 399).
*RUMFORD, Sir Benjamin Thompson, Count von (1753-1814) KEY 32
Founder of the Royal Institution
*RUTHERFORD, Daniel (1749-1819) KEY 5
Physician and botanist
*SMITH, William (1769-1839) KEY 15
Geologist. He appears in the engraving only.
*STANHOPE, Charles, 3rd Earl (1753-1816) KEY 49
Inventor of machinery
*SYMINGTON, William (1763-1831) KEY 46
*TELFORD, Thomas (1757-1834) KEY 31
Civil engineer
*TENNANT, Charles (1768-1838) KEY 43
Manufacturing chemist
*THOMSON, Thomas (1773-1852) KEY 42
*TREVITHICK, Richard (1771-1833) KEY 51
*TROUGHTON, Edward (1753-1835) KEY 41
Instrument maker and inventor; he appears in the engraving only.
WATSON, Right Rev Richard (1737-1816) KEY 28
Chemist. Portrait based on an oil by George Romney, engraved Jones and others (see forthcoming NPG Catalogue of Portraits 1760-90); he appears in the engraving only.
WATT, James (1736-1819) KEY 30
Engineer. The central figure of the group, portrait based on Beechey and Chantrey (see forthcoming NPG Catalogue of Portraits 1760-90).
*WOLLASTON, William Hyde (1766-1828) KEY 20
Physiologist and chemist
*YOUNG, Thomas (1773-1829) KEY 10

Referenceback to top

Clow 1956
Archibald Clow, 'A Re-Examination of William Walker's "Distinguished Men of Science"’ in Annals of Science, II-3, September 1956, pp 183-93 and 5 plates.

Cust 1902
Lionel Cust, The National Portrait Gallery, 1902, II, pp 110-13.

Walker 1862
William Walker junior, Memoirs of the Distinguished Men of Science of Great Britain Living in the Years 1807-8, 1862.

Physical descriptionback to top

Two preliminary sketches for NPG 1075:
(1) Grey wash on buff paper, laid down, 24.4 x 35.3 (9½ x 13 7/8), signed: John Gilbert RA and inscribed: Please Sir John sign on the sketch as it goes into a surface mount.
(2) Pencil on off-white paper 27.6 x 36.5 (10 7/8 x 14 3/8), signed: John Gilbert RA. PRWS and inscribed: Sir John do please sign any where as this is the size of the mount. It is also annotated faintly at the top: The Great Master Minds of the 19th Century/Century of Inventors, and along the bottom: Group 5 Centre Group 16 - Group 5 and to right: Library Steps. Numerals are written in up to 12 together with the names from left to right: Maudsly, Brunell, Bentham, Bramah, Beaufort, Crompton, Cartwright, Peel, Stanhope, Fourdrinier.

Provenanceback to top

William Walker and bought from his son William Walker in 1904.

Exhibitionsback to top

'The Heritage from Newton and Linnaeus', Stockholm, 1962 (210).

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.

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