Completed London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 16th and 17th C, Portraits: British 18th C 40 Did Jonathan Richardson the elder paint this portrait of Alexander Pope?

Topic: Artist

Could this be by Jonathan Richardson the elder?

There are quite a number of paintings on Your Paintings by this artist, some of which have inventive compositions with which to compare this. Richardson painted more than one portrait of Pope.

The collection note: 'Although Jonathan Richardson is known for his inventive compositions as seen in this work, his portraits of Alexander Pope are very different to this painting both in terms of composition and style.'

Any information would be welcome.

Martin Hopkinson, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The artist remains unidentified, as there is no convincing support for an attribution to Jonathan Richardson the elder or any of the other artists suggested. The identity of the sitter also remains in doubt.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Neil Jeffares,

Are you sure that this is Pope? The portrait only resembles the famous Hoare image (versions in NPG and Yale) in a general way, and e.g. the eye colour seems different.

Dave Evans,

Is there a signature (or other inscription) at the extreme bottom left? Enlarging the 'Your Paintings' image in Photoshop suggests there might be but if there is it's not legible at this resolution.

Geraint Richard Hall,

All I can say is, if this isn't a portrait of Alexander Pope (1688-1744) then it must be a portrait of an 18th century celebrity look-alike.

Geraint Richard Hall,

And also - the painter Joseph Wright of Derby was only 9 years old when Alexander Pope died.

Tim Williams,

The costume etc suggests someone of an artistic/literary bent 1710-1720ish, and I agree with Neil, it looks like a different sitter compared to other contemporary portraits of Pope. If by Wright then it could well be a posthumous portrait of Pope, but that seems unlikely? There is a lot in common with Wright's self-portrait, but I can't remember seeing a Wright with so much 'stuff' in it.

The 'hipsters' wearing these hats seem to be misidentified quite often, mainly because of the hat. There's a good one in the Tate that has been down as John Gay and various other scribleri. Pope is shown with piercing blue eyes in most portraits, and these here look brownish - a hat does not a likeness make.

The identity of the sitter is likely to be found on the spine of one of the books, obscured by dirt and varnish. This portrait has featured on the cover of modern editions of Pope's works and may turn out to be the new Cobbe!

Barbara Bryant,

Yes, we need that better image to try to determine what books etc. on the table are associated with this sitter.
It would seem that noted London publisher, Devon-born, John Lane (who died in 1925) of the Bodley Head gave this painting to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum. Lane had antiquarian interests and collected widely. He probably thought this was Pope.
On the identification, try comparing to, the portrait at the Fitzwilliam by Jonathan Richardson the younger.

Tim Williams,

Which portraits of Pope can we be certain were painted from life? Most of them look like they wern't apart from maybe the van Loo, and a couple of Richardson's. His eye colour varies considerably from painter to painter. The Hoare pastel (NPG 299), (if we believe Hoare's son's anecdote) was and there is no doubting the eye colour as blue:

Almost all the Richardson's have them as brown. A copy of the van Loo has them as blue. William Kent has them as green!

The one in Boston looks to me the most likely to be an actual sitting:

Andrea Kollmann,

There are some more details on the RAMM-Website:
- the painting was once attributed to Joshua Reynolds,
-its “production country” is Italy and its "place of origin" Italy, England,
-it was painted c. 1740 and
-it has an inscription: “Portrait of Pope, / the Poet / Painted By Sir Joshua Reynolds / PRA / about 1760 / (....?) the collection / of Sir William Knighton / Bart / of Horndean 1851, The St James's Gallery of Art 30 Piccadilly London W”.

Bruce Trewin,

Jonathan Richardson, the elder, was not generally very successful with hands. I find it unlikely that he would select a pose where the hands feature so prominently, and are so well executed. Isn't this portrait much better than he would have produced?

Tim Williams,

So it was retailed by C.E. Clifford & Co. (aka St James's Gallery) sometime between 1848-1887, (likely towards the latter of that time frame) and before this with Knighton.

If the inscription (as well as RAMMs assessment) is to be trusted, all the extra info points to a posthumous portrait, in which case the likeness is neither here nor there.

Barbara Bryant,

Good work, Andrea. The idea that the portrait was owned and/or thought to have been painted by Reynolds is fascinating. I will contact the scholar who is an expert in Reynolds's collection to see if there is any record of this painting. It certainly isn't in the catalogue raisonne of Reynolds's oils.

Tim Williams,

Knighton's estate sale was held at Christie's May 21-23rd.

Royal Albert Memorial Museum,

Thanks for all the comments made so far. It has been very interesting reading all the comments. I have been in our store today and have looked in particular at the books in the painting. Unfortunately, the spines and the covers of the books do not appear to have anything written upon them. I hope to provide a higher resolution image of our work soon to help with this discussion.

Barbara Bryant,

Thank you to the Royal Albert Memorial Museum for help in the discussion. It is great to get first-hand information. We will look forward to seeing the high res image.

Tim Williams,

As well as a high res, would it be possible to have an image of the reverse?

The picture entered the museum as by Reynolds (see attached clipping of the Lane bequest), but I can't find any reference to it prior to this date. If anyone has access to a copy of W. K. Wimsatt's 'The Portraits of Alexander Pope' (1965) it would be worth checking to see if this portrait is mentioned. Kerslake discusses the majority of them, but this one isn't noted:

1 attachment
Jade Audrey King,

Please find attached – temporarily – a larger image of this painting.

The collection have requested that this image is removed from the discussion in two days' time (Wednesday 2nd December 2015).

This is a great puzzle! Wright doesn't jump out to me as much as on the smaller photo, though I still keep coming back to him (especially in areas like the eyes). I can't see Reynolds, nor Richardson. Indeed, this mostly looks like a later portrait; 1740s/50s? It would appear to be very good. I suppose we must stick to English. Is it too good for Hudson? Probably, though very rarely he can come up with something on this level. It does feel quite close to Sold's artist portraits, like the Rysbrack. But the handling is perhaps not quite Soldi's. It's not easy to get to grips with it in this condition. But I'm sure with a bit more thought we'll get there.

Its easy to see how this may have gained the name of Pope at some point but is it? Many/most Pope portraits show a slightly different nose profile (long, but with a shallow inward curve) and a large orbit to the eyes, giving him a rather 'surprised' look with the brows rising at the outer ends, as well as the face as a whole generally looking more delicately boned. This chap looks like, but not that like: its a more solid face, the nose straighter, the brows lower, including at the outer ends and the expression more concentrated. The impedimenta on the table also looks rather scruffy, a large sheet of paper torn at the edges, old (?) volumes behind, and is the one lying flat in good condition on the spine or shown damaged. Clearly he's a writer but perhaps more a historical scholar of antiquarian/ classical subjects than a poetical wit?

James Fairhead,

This picture has not been commented on for some time, but previous discussion attests to its quality. Since then, Bendor Grosvenor (in his wonderful Art History News blog, on June 18th) drew our attention to a ‘sleeper’ self-portrait by Charles-Antoine Coypel. There are many other self-portraits, and I attach a file comparing this one with four known ‘self’-portraits (I’ve put in Coypel’s portrait of Moliere for good measure). It was the coat and head-gear that first drew me to the comparison, then the face and ears, and then the fact that Coypel was not just an artist on oils (and director of the French academy) that is attested to in some of the self-portraits, but also worked in pastel (attested to in others) and was a playwright (of 40 plays) and penned poetry and prose too, that would be attested to in this portrait, if it were him. One of his plays, La Poésie et la Peinture, compared these arts. He was from a family of artists, his father Antoine being the King’s painter, his grandfather Noel having directed the French Academy. If this were him, then this (and other) portraits of him could well be by of other artists at the academy, or indeed by others in his family. I think this possibility might be considered (though I am no expert on Coypel).

James Fairhead,

attachment seems to have failed.
Here it is

Jacinto Regalado,

This portrait strikes me as above Richardson's average, despite what appear to be condition problems, and the sitter does not look like Pope, who had more prominent and different eyes.

Jacinto Regalado,

I am not suggesting this is by him, but there is something vaguely reminiscent of Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Jacinto Regalado,

I think this picture is too good for Richardson, and I see from earlier comments (which I had not taken the trouble to read) that Reynolds has occurred to a number of others before me (and it is worthy of him). Again, the sitter does not look like Pope at all except for externals like dress and a certain "literary" pose.

Jacinto Regalado,

If the sitter was a writer or intellectual, that would fit well with Ramsay, who had literary interests, painted Hume and Rousseau, and was also a friend of Samuel Johnson.

Jacinto Regalado,

I do not think so, Kieran. Rousseau had a softer or more open face, with rounder eyes, though the pose in our picture is not as helpful as it might be.

James Fairhead,

I wonder if one might even consider Voltaire? Bit of a long short, but there are not many extant portraits of Voltaire from life at the age of the person in this portrait. Voltaire was in England in 1726-1728, which would fit, and stayed with those in the circuit of Jonathan Richardson's (staying with people he painted, including as Voltaire's host, Bolingbroke as well as Pope, Gay and others). An account of his English years is here:’s-english-years-17261728

Voltaire initially also stayed with Everard Fawkener who knew well the artist Jean-Etienne Liotard.

A 'lost' portrait of Voltaire seems somewhat unlikely, but the Voltaire foundation seem keen to track them down

There were several French subjects in England at the time (including Rousseau, who visited briefly) accounting for the apparent 'UK dimensions' although some French portraits also share these UK dimensions, including Coypel’s portrait of his brother in the Louvre, which today is not far off this one at c 75 x 61 cm.

Jacinto Regalado,

I doubt this could be Voltaire, who had a rather distinctive nose unlike this sitter's, and also different eyes. However, it could be another French philosophe painted by a French artist such as Greuze, for instance.

Thomas Ardill, Curator,

As there have been no comments on this discussion for over 2 years, and no real support for an attribution to Jonathan Richardson the Elder we could close this discussion by summarising that the painter of this portrait (formerly attributed to Sir Joshua Reynolds) remains unidentified.
The following artists have been suggested, but no consensus has been reach on attribution: Joshua Reynolds, Jonathan Richardson the elder, Joseph Wright of Derby, Thomas Hudson, Andrea Soldi, Charles-Antoine Coypel, Allan Ramsay and Jean-Baptiste Greuze (or school of).
The sitter - traditionally said to be Alexander Pope - also remains in doubt.
Finally, it is worth noting that while artist and sitter remain unknown, commentators have remarked on the fine quality of the portrait.
As this discussion pertains more to 18th Century Portraits than London Artists and Subjects, I will leave it to others to decide whether to close the discussion.