After John Hoppner, R.A. (British, 1758-1810)
Bust-length Portrait of the Right Honorable William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806)
Oil on canvas, 30 x 25 in. (76.0 x 63.2 cm), framed.
Condition: Lined, retouch, craquelure, minor paint loss.
Provenance: Purchased by the family of the current owner in 1935 from a New York City gallery, possibly Howard Young Galleries.
N.B. John Hoppner, R.A, (1758-1810) was a celebrated portraitist of the leading political and social figures of his day. The painting at hand is based upon Hoppner's original three-quarter length portrait from life of the British statesman, the Right Honourable William Pitt the Younger, who died in January, 1806, at the age of 46 years. The original Hoppner portrait, commissioned by then foreign secretary Lord Mulgrave (Sir Henry Phipps [1755-1831]) and completed October 25, 1805, was the last portrait for which Pitt the Younger sat, and it was regarded as an excellent likeness. When Pitt died, the portrait was still in Hoppner's studio where it was being engraved. After Pitt's untimely death, many requests were made for copies of the portrait, which were authorized by Lord Mulgrave; Hoppner himself painted about twenty versions of varying sizes, and he hired assistants who also painted copies. There were undoubtedly also further replicas made from these copies. Seventeen examples based on the Mulgrave portrait are noted in John Hoppner, R.A. by William McKay and W. Roberts (London: P. & D. Colnaghi & Co and George Bell & Sons, 1909), including one at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The portrait also served in part as the basis for the full-length sculpture of Pitt done by Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823). (1)
The painting at hand, which is unsigned and focuses on the bust of Pitt, is likely an early 19th century version. The bold brushwork and freshness seem to suggest close familiarity with the original. Specific details, such as the dusting of wig powder resting on the sitter's collar, lend immediacy and closely parallel a descriptive analysis by George Scharf of the portrait of Pitt at the National Portrait Gallery. (2) However, due to the number of contemporary copies based on the Mulgrave portrait, and without specific documentary evidence, it is very difficult to trace the painting to a particular hand.
(1) John Hoppner, from Little Books on Art, H. P. K. Skipton, London: Metheun & Co., 1905.
(2) Historical & Descriptive Catalogue of the Pictures, Busts &c in the National Portrait Gallery, Compiled by George Scharf, Abridged, revised, and continued by Lionel Cust, London: Stationery Office, 1896.
There is an indistinct pencil inscription on the center stretcher bar, "side of ..." There is a label from "HY" possibly Howard Young Galleries, New York.
Retouch to fill craquelure in forehead, dots of retouch in the center top background area, retouch to lower left quadrant in two spots in area measuring 4 x 3 inches overall, retouch along right edge 4 inches long and one inch wide and a second area 3 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Minor paint loss l.r. quadrant measuring .2 cm. Stable craquelure. Sweeping brush marks visible most probably from varnish application.