Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait bust of William Pitt the Younger 1759-1806 1810c.

 English School 

Portrait bust of William Pitt the Younger 1759-1806,  English School
19th Century
16 inches 40.6 cm
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This portrait bust of William Pitt originates from Nollekens' marble likeness of 1806, but is particularly close to the version made by Sebastian Gahagan (his pupil) that currently sits on the committee stairs at the Palace of Westminster. Gahagan carved a number of his master's works for which ''Mr Nollekens paid him, I am sorry to say, a miserably small sum'' (J.T.Smith). However, a consideration of the information inscribed on the reverse of the bust offers an entirely different source of origin.

Thomas Grensill (or Grensell) is known to have occupied a workshop at 446 Strand during the years 1812 and 1813, where he was recorded as being a ''Bronze Figure Manufacturer1. Little is known of his practice, but it seems likely that he specialized in making reproductions of popular primary works for the wider market outside Nollekens'' reproductive capabilities. Sculpture was unprotected by copyright laws until 1814 with the introduction of The Sculpture Copyright Act, and given that this work is further marked with the name of a ''publisher", it is possible that the composition derived from an arrangement between F.Galliani and Sebastian Gahagan (whose version of the bust also dates from 1809). Once the copyright law was introduced however, Grensill's operation would have been rendered illegal, and one could feasibly conclude that his professional disappearance during that year was a direct result of the new legislation.

Born at Hayes in Kent on May 28th 1759 as second son of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, Pitt the Younger rose to great political eminence as both orator and statesman. He was educated at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge and became M.P. for Appleby in 1781 before being appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer the following year. By 1783 he had formed a new administration as Britain''s youngest ever Prime Minister, winning an overwhelming majority at the General Election of 1784 and remaining in office for the next seventeen years.

Pitt's foreign policies, based on opposing France by means of European coalitions, imposed heavy financial burdens on the economy that were exacerbated by wars against the French. The growing strain forced the introduction of income tax in 1798, and the Irish rebellion of that year prompted the unification of the Irish and British Parliaments in 1800. By 1801 he was forced to resign his office in the face of intensifying economic and foreign problems and agreed to support Addington's administration, but on the resignation of that ministry in 1804, he re-entered office with a more vigorous policy. However, war disasters at Ulm and Austerlitz shattered his European coalition, and suffering a rapid deterioration of health he died on January 23rd 1806.
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