Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of William Pitt the Younger 1805

Studio of John Hoppner RA (1756 - 1810)

Portrait of William Pitt the Younger, Studio of John Hoppner RA
Oil on canvas
19th Century
35 ½ x 27 ¼ inches, 90 x 69.5 cm
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Hoppner’s portrait of Pitt the Younger ranks amongst the finest likenesses of one of Britain’s pre-eminent Prime Ministers. Pitt sat for Hoppner at the artist's residence in 1805, during his second brief term as Prime Minister. It would be his last portrait sitting. Hoppner’s work is the most statesman-like of Pitt’s portraits, and has become perhaps the best-known likeness of him. The sculptor Joseph Nollekens used Hoppner’s original when making his own posthumous likeness, in conjunction with a death mask.

Hoppner’s original portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1806, the year of Pitt’s death. The picture was widely admired, and though some criticized the apparent severity of the characterisation, it was considered to be Hoppner’s best work. It accords well with the testament of another portraitist, John Opie, who remarked on “a power of expression that was extraordinary” in Pitt’s eyes. Pitt and Hoppner were close contemporaries and the evident world-weariness in the heavy eyelids and solemnity of expression suggests a certain amount of empathy on the artist's part as his sitter's health began to deteriorate.

After Pitt’s death Hoppner received numerous demands for replicas of his original from Pitt’s friends and colleagues. Most were three-quarter length, as the original, for which Hoppner charged 80 guineas. (This contrasts with Nollekens’ bust, of which there are seventy-four versions, and which cost 120 guineas each.)

Inevitably, many of Hoppner’s versions were completed with studio assistance. Smaller versions such as the present example were reproduced by studio assistants such as R. R. Reinagle, who is believed to have produced thirteen half-lengths, as well as four whole-lengths. Many of Hoppner’s replicas were taken directly from the original canvas, now at Cowdray Park, which was specifically retained by the artist for this purpose. This picture was formerly in the collection of the Earls of Devon, and hung in the library at Powderham Castle.
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