Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727) 1727c.

Jacob de Wit 

Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), Jacob de Wit
Oil Grisaille
18th Century
20 x 16 inches 50.5 x 41 cm
J.O. Featter Collection, London.
This grisaille portrait of Sir Isaac Newton is one of only two portraits that de Wit is known to have painted. Specialising in Biblical scenes - whether as friezes, ceiling paintings or alter pieces in his native Amsterdam, the artist's only other likeness aside from several portrait and self-portrait drawings is that of Father Aegidus de Glabbais with Attendents (1718, Catharijneconvent, Utrecht).

De Wit was well renowned for the smoothly painted grisailles that he dubbed ''Witjes'' (a play on his name and the Dutch ''wit'' for white), and it was these rather than the altarpieces, room or ceiling paintings that attracted followers such as Dionys van Nijmegen, Elias van Nijmegen and Aert Shouman after his death. Whilst the majority of these grisailles took the form of groups of putti in corner pieces for his ceiling and wall paintings, this is the only known example of his imitation stucco relief being used for a portrait. A reduced version forms part of the permanent collection at the Staatliche Kunsthalle in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Isaac Newton was born at Woolsthorpe and educated at Grantham Grammar School before matriculating at Trinity College, Cambridge in 1661. Looking to amend ancient chronology by means of astronomy, he made his first significant scientific discoveries whilst absent from the University during the plague in 1665-6 - developing the binomial theorum, integral and differential calculus, and the idea of universal gravitation. Turning his attention to optics by 1668, he made the first reflecting telescope and founded the emission theory of light that was later summed up in his Optics of 1704. By early 1680, Newton had added to his initial idea of universal gravitation with the discovery of how to calculate the orbit of a body moving under a central force, and his work was published as Principia in 1687. He was later elected President of the Royal Society (a post that he held for the next twenty five years), and knighted by Queen Anne on her visit to Cambridge in 1705.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.