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William Whitehead

William Whitehead, by Benjamin Wilson, 1758-1759 -NPG 6211 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

Mid-Georgian Portraits Catalogue

William Whitehead

by Benjamin Wilson
1758-1759
29 1/2 in. x 24 1/2 in. (751 mm x 624 mm) oval
NPG 6211

Inscriptionback to top

Inscribed on the old lining canvas verso: W. Whitehead Poet Laureate/by B. Wilson. 1758.

This portraitback to top

The execution proved a little difficult. On 20 June 1758 Whitehead told his patron Lord Harcourt, who had commissioned the portrait: ‘I finished sitting at Wilson’s before I came out of town, & the picture seems to me very easy, & amazingly like. He is pleased with it himself, & intends to take great pains in the colouring, &c. He is quite confident that you will like it’. [1] Back in London on 4 November Whitehead wrote again to say that he had called on Wilson: ‘what he has done to the picture I cannot tell, but the likeness is considerably lessened. If I have time I am to give him a sitting before your Lordship comes to town’. [2] A week later Mason was writing to Harcourt: ‘I saw Whitehead’s picture when I was in Town, but it must not go out of Wilson’s hands till I see it again, I want several touches about the mouth, &c., & the whole is a tame likeness at present’. [3] Seven months later Whitehead told Harcourt that ‘Wilson has made some alterations in my picture, which Mason said were much for the better’. [4] Eventually Harcourt, at least, appears to have been satisfied with the portrait, for on 16 September 1760 Whitehead wrote to him: ‘I am glad to find travelling agrees with my picture, I always thought the features like, but the result of the whole not so, perhaps the light you have placed it in is advantageous to it’. [5]
Previously mistakenly attributed to Richard Wilson. [6]

Footnotesback to top

1) E. W. Harcourt ed., Harcourt Papers, VII, n. d., pp 215-16.
2) Ibid., p 220.
3) Ibid., p 10 (10 November 1758).
4) Ibid., p 222 (23 June 1759).
5) Ibid., p 227.
6) Exhibited as such in 1867 and 1891, the attribution suspected by W. G. Constable, Richard Wilson, 1953, no.135b.

Referenceback to top

Constable 1953
W. G. Constable, Richard Wilson, 1953, no.135b.

Physical descriptionback to top

Grey eyes, brown hair, wearing a brown suit and the ribbon and badge of the Bath; seated in a red chair; four books, one lettered: Wm. Whitehead Esq./Poet Laureat./Register &/Secretary of ye./Order of ye./Bath.

Provenanceback to top

Commissioned by the 2nd Earl Harcourt, thence by descent; Harcourt sale, Sotheby’s, 10 June 1993, lot 869, bought Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox for the NPG, and purchased through the Dame Helen Gardner Fund.

Exhibitionsback to top

Second special exhibition of National Portraits (William and Mary to MDCCC), South Kensington, 1867 (801, as by Richard Wilson) lent Rev W. V. Harcourt; Royal House of Guelph, New Gallery, London, 1891 (238, as by Richard Wilson) lent E. W. Harcourt; A Candidate for Praise, William Mason 1725-97, Precentor of York, 1973 (12).

Reproductionsback to top

W. Ensom 1821, from a drawing by J. Thurston (Effigies Poeticae 1824).


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 William Whitehead

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