Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Profile Portrait of William Pitt the Younger (1759 - 1806) 1783

Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA (1769-1830)

Profile Portrait of William Pitt the Younger (1759 - 1806), Sir Thomas Lawrence PRA
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Pencil on Paper
18th Century
6 7/8 x 5 3/8 inches 17.5 x 13.2 cm
 
Provenance:
Rev. John Rouse Bloxham DD (1807 - 1891) nephew of the artist, by whom given to a Mr Peel (perhaps John Floyd Peel (1827 - 1910), fourth son of Sir Robert Peel) 21st January 1890; Christie's March 1913 (30), sold for 5 guineas; Francis Wellesley, his sale Sotheby''s 26th February 1964 (15); The Pitt Club, Cambridge (1964).
Literature:
Charles Whibley William Pitt Edinburgh 1906 ill. opp. p.64; Freeman O'Donoghue, Catalogue of British Engraved Portraits in the British Museum III London 1912 p.475 no. 36 (the etching); Kenneth Garlick A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Pastels of Sir Thomas Lawrence Walpole Society XXXIX 1964 p.240; Richard Walker National Portrait Gallery, Regency Portraits London 1985 Vol. I p.395
Exhibited:
On loan to the Victoria and Albert Museum 1916 - 1918
To view portraits by Thomas Lawrence for sale, please go to www.philipmould.com.

The particular power of this delicate profile study lies not only in the competence of its execution, but in the fact that it brings together two of the most remarkable men of their time – painter and subject – at a moment when the potential of each was apparent to the world, but the spectacular nature of their eventual achievements unimagined and as-yet unrealised.

From the age of the sitter, it would seem that this drawing dates from c.1780, Lawrence’s earliest years in Bath, when as a child prodigy he was making a name for himself as an society portraitist in pencil and pastel, with an engaging manner and an ability beyond his years. Like opportunistic artists today sketching their subjects unawares as they sit in cafes, there is a strong suggestion from this drawing that Lawrence may have captured the young Pitt at some gathering, with the intention, perhaps, of securing praise and patronage. Several of Lawrence’s earliest portraits are small profile drawings such as this, and it is suggested that this form may have been chosen under the influence of William Hoare, although contemporary series such as George Dance the Younger’s set of print portraits of artists and architects employ the same format, which would seem to have enjoyed a brief vogue at this time.

Lawrence portrayed Pitt again in 1808, in a full-length oil which was exhibited at the Royal Academy in that year. This is a majestic work, but it suffers from all the deficiencies of a posthumous work too preoccupied with the stature of its subject, and seems only to lack a halo. This drawing, given its date, exercises a far stronger fascination, since it must show the sitter in years immediately before he became Prime Minister in 1783 at the age of twenty four, a record of youth which has never been broken. In this drawing he appears not as a politician, but as young man then still in the shadow of his late father, the Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder Earl of Chatham, who had died two years previously. Chatham had come to Bath often to take the waters for his gout, and it is likely that his son pursued a similar course, whose health had never been strong and who suffered similarly. Because of his years on attaining office, Pitt’s youth was comparatively brief, and may not truly have lasted beyond the age depicted in this drawing. He is described as early as the 1790s as being of a ruined appearance, with signs of mental strain and physical disease. The pressures of high office affected him profoundly, and though his early death in 1806 was attributed to overwork it was exacerbated by his habit of drinking a bottle of port every day.
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