Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Wax relief of William Pitt the Elder Earl of Chatham (1708-1778) 1778c.

Isaac Gosset 

Wax relief of William Pitt the Elder Earl of Chatham (1708-1778), Isaac Gosset
18th Century
7 x 5 3/4 inches 17.7 x 14.5 (with frame)
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Isaac Gosset, who came from a family of Huguenot émigrés, was one of the most accomplished modellists in wax practising in this country during the eighteenth century. He employed a wax solution of his own devising, which defied precise identification both at the time and subsequently. His practice was distinguished and successful. He exhibited twenty-four works at the Incorporated Society of Artists between 1760 and 1778 and the list of his sitters includes many subjects of considerable distinction. In the Library at Windsor, for example, there are cameos of King George II and the Princess Dowager of Wales. Other sitters include Henry Pelham, George Grenville, Robert Carteret (Lord Granville), and the Duke of Grafton.

William Pitt the Elder, known affectionately (until he alienated public opinion by accepting a peerage from George III) as ''The Great Commoner'', is an appropriate member of this pantheon of Gosset sitters. Pitt was the son of a Member of Parliament and the grandson of Thomas Pitt who had helped to build British trade in India. He entered Parliament in 1735 at the age of 27 after attending Oxford. He gained attention by leading the Patriot faction in opposition to Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole, but his skills at oratory did not establish for him a power base. His first office was as paymaster-general, 1746, where he made a name for himself by his honesty and failure to take financial advantage of the office. Discouraged by his lack of progress within government, he turned to criticizing the Duke of Newcastle, and his government’s war policy, resulting in his dismissal in 1755. After Newcastle resigned in 1756, Pitt formed a government with George Grenville and the Duke of Devonshire. Pitt and Grenville argued over the administration of the war and in April, 1757, King George II dismissed Pitt. After several months with virtually no government, Pitt was recalled to government at the outbreak of the Seven Years'' War to form a coalition government with Newcastle.
Pitt served very effectively as a wartime prime minister with Newcastle attending to domestic affairs. He sent a strengthened British fleet to blockade French ports and provided supplies to Frederick the Great of Prussia. His policies resulted in victory over the French in India and Canada and on the seas. He sought to continue the war until France was completely defeated, and broaden the war by declaring against Spain. He met with opposition by other ministers and disagreement by George III. He resigned in 1761 and spent the next five years criticizing the government. He called the 1763 Peace of Paris too lenient, encouraged criticism of the House of Commons and denounced British policy toward the American colonies gaining him a following both at home and in the colonies.

In July 1766, Pitt was recalled to form and lead another coalition government. This time, he met with little success as prime minister. He entered the House of Lords as Earl of Chatham which eroded all of his previous popularity. Indeed, a celebration in his honour given by the City of London was cancelled when it became known that he had accepted an earldom from the King. His government was unable to deal with the problems in America; he supported the Americans against the king, but was not for independence; and in fact, proved incapable of governing at home as well. His most loyal ministers resigning around him, Pitt fell into depression and resigned his office October 1768.

Pitt did not leave the political arena. He continued to speak out against British policy in the American colonies and fight for parliamentary reform, but he gained little following. He was a statesman, not a politician. Chatham collapsed in the Lords speaking out against repressive measures against the colonists and died a month later in 1778 at the age of 70. This episode is, of course, the subject of John Singleton Copley’s famous painting The Death of the Earl of Chatham (National Portrait Gallery). His belief that the harsh measures advocated against the colonists were not only morally wrong but would prove a resounding disaster for the mother country earned him considerable affection in America, and the regard in which he was held can be seen in the number of settlements that were posthumously named for him, not least the city of Pittsburgh, PA.
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