Completed Portraits: British 16th and 17th C, Portraits: British 18th C 17 Is this portrait of Gilbert Burnet a copy after Godfrey Kneller?

Topic: Subject or sitter

See also University of Aberdeen's other portrait of Gilbert Burnet:

Gilbert Burnet (1643–1715), DD, Bishop of Salisbury (copy of a work by Godfrey Kneller), painted 1723, by Andrew McIlraith (attributed to)
Your Paintings link:

The Sarah Hoadly portrait is not listed as a copy after Godfrey Kneller, but the portrait attributed to McIlraith is. Are both copies of a work by Kneller?

I found this by Kneller at the National Trust however the paintings do not look overly similar...

Jade Audrey King, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The attribution has been amended from Sarah Curtis Hoadly (1676–1742/1743) to Andrew McIlwraith (active 1715–1753), after John Riley. A note on the artwork page now indicates that this portrait (like ABDUA 30024 and ABDUA 30025; both also updated) is close in detail to a smaller portrait of Burnet in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection and probably derives from a lost original.

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.


Michael Liversidge,

I think perhaps your painting is taken from the John Riley portrait of Burnet in the National Portrait Gallery, possibly based on the mezzotint engraving by John Smith issued in 1690. The Riley and your picture share the same self-satisfied look of a distinguished prelate of the period, and are equally over-fed. Also the 'rope' of the Garter mantle is arranged similarly.

The Riley is also discussed in the John Ingamells catalogue, 'Later Stuart Portraits 1685-1714' (London, NPG, 2009).

Neither the face, nor its colouring, in the Aberdeen picture are consistent with Godfrey Kneller.

John Riley original (National Portrait Gallery)


Michael Liversidge,

I see the National Trust (Lyme, Cheshire) has another copy of the Riley image:

The rest of the Aberdeen portrait seems to follow the standard convention for a portrait of a Chancellor of the Order of the Garter, as for example in another picture by Godfrey Kneller of William Talbot, with the same Great Seal bag:

Oliver Perry,

There is an engraving after a portrait of Burnet by Sarah Hoadly, in which he looks considerably older than he does in this painting:

There's a reference to her portrait of Burnet in "The Lives of the Bishops of Winchester" (1827):

Many of her portraits would do honour to a professor of the art; particularly a pair of small whole lengths, of Mr. Hoadly just after, and of his brother just before, they were in orders; and another of Bishop Burnet in the family of ____ Michael, Esq. who married one of his daughters, from which Mr. Vertue made an excellent engraving.;
Sarah Hoadly's husband, Benjamin Hoadly, himself became Bishop of Salisbury in 1723.

Barbara Bryant,

Can we get a higher resolution image and/or detail and/or transcription of the signature/inscription on the stone plinth to the right side of the painting? This seems to show a date and some further information which will help.

Jade Audrey King,

The collection have given permission for me to post a higher resolution image. Please find attached.

1 attachment
Osmund Bullock,

Well, there we are: not Sarah Hoadly, but Andrew McIlwraith 1723. And in fact nothing to do with Hoadly - it is another Riley copy, and not a good one. McIlwraith - he is, I think, always recorded with a 'W' in his name - was a Scottish portraitist (fl1715-1754) about whom little is known. A few portraits are recorded, including this one; he was a founding (1729) member of Edinburgh's Academy of St Luke (Scotland's original art academy, where Ramsay first trained), and 30 years after Burnet his skills had considerably improved:

There seems to be much confusion on the part of the U. of Aberdeen and/or the PCF, and I'll try and clarify things now. There are many basic images of Burnet, but only two need concern us: those by or after Riley (c1689), and those by or after a later portrait by Mrs Hoadly.

As well as the two under discussion, Aberdeen in fact has a third portrait of Burnet, also attributed to Sarah Hoadly: .
Now this clearly does relate to a number of prints at the NPG & BM which identify Hoadly as the original artist. Here's the 1723 Vertue one mentioned in Oliver's book extract:,7.193
I doubt that this (U. of Aberdeen) portrait is the Hoadly original mentioned in the book as being with descendants c1827 (though the condition is so poor it's impossible to be sure), but it is certainly a version of it - and the only one on Your Paintings that is. The donor, John Farley Leith, MP for Aberdeen, lived 1808-1887.

The c1689 Riley type presumably all derive from a lost or untraced seated full-length version with all the accoutrements of office. The U. of Aberdeen's two other portraits of Burnet must be copies of this, as is another (ex-family) version at Crathes Castle, mis-attributed to Circle of Kneller:
There is likely to have been, too, a smaller oval version by Riley, of which the NPG's one (currently on loan to the NT at Lyme Park) is a copy. This must also have been the source for John Smith's 1690 mezzotint (which identifies the artist) - all the other prints of this type probably derive from from that.

Gilbert Burnet's DNB article says there is an oil by or after J. Riley of c.1689–1691 at the Scottish NPG - perhaps the prime of one of these. But mysteriously this is not to be found on Your Paintings.

So in summary, the University of Aberdeen's portraits appear to have got mixed up. The one under discussion (104904) is not by Hoadly, but by McIlwraith - signed and dated - and a copy of Riley. The one attributed to McIlraith [sic](104957) is not a copy of Kneller, but of Riley, and is not by McIlwraith but by an unknown, superior hand. However, the damaged one also attributed to Hoadly (104903) is indeed by or after her. Kneller is a complete red herring, and the Crathes Castle portrait (196298) is also nothing to do with him, but another copy after Riley.

Barbara Bryant,

Before finalising this discussion, I think we do need to see the portrait by Riley that is listed as being at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in the ODNB entry on Burnet. I have not found it on their website nor on Your Paintings (as Osmund noted). But I have determined that it is a 3/4 length so is probably the original of the ones at Aberdeen. I have contacted the SNPG and will expect to hear more about that version.

As I suspected, the signature and date on the version under discussion move everything forward considerably. Thank you Osmund for going through all the versions of Burnett's portrait.

The artist for this well-preserved portrait (ABDUA 30638) at the University of Aberdeen under discussion can now be attributed to Andrew McIlwraith and dated 1723. Given by John Farley Leith, who died in 1887, it must have come to the University in his lifetime or as a bequest after his death, so has been there for some considerable time.

The version at Crathes (National Trust for Scotland 51.960), which is on loan from the family of the sitter, is another copy.

The other exact version is also at the University of Aberdeen (ABDUA 30025) It gives rise to the question why the University bought this one when they already had the one by McIlwraith?

Osmund Bullock,

Well, I suppose the purchase could have taken place *before* they were given/left the McIlwraith version by Farley Leith (who also gave them their Sarah Hoadly one). It probably all makes more sense if purchase and gifts took place before 1860, when the modern University was created from Marischal College (Burnet's alma mater) and the older King's College. Prior to that they can be considered quite separate institutions, with their own benefactors and collections, now combined.

Osmund Bullock,

I’m afraid this now gets more complicated, Barbara.

I have found on the U. of Aberdeen’s Library, Special Collections and Museums website all three of the portraits. This has higher-resolution images of them all (including the one we’ve received already), together with substantial further information and notes. I’m not quite clear why they didn’t point us in this direction when Jade asked for the high-res, it would have saved a lot of time. I can’t give the direct link, as the search times out. Go to and do a simple search for “Painting Gilbert Burnet” in ‘All collections’ with the ‘contains’ box ticked. From the result page clicking on each will open a new page with access to (a) a zoomable higher-res image (click on thumbnail); and (b) the Full Museum Record (allegedly – in fact annoyingly truncated and indeed inaccurately transcribed in some cases).

1. (U. of A. ref ABDUA 30024 / PCF 104903) To get the first, simplest one out of the way – the damaged ‘Sarah Hoadly’. The full record and the high-res image both reveal an inscription top right: ‘Gilbert Burnet, D.D. BP. of Salisbury / painted by Mrs Hoadly’. So, yes, certainly Hoadly-type, as previously discussed: but even with this more detailed view I am undecided if it could be the original or not, such is the state it’s in.

2. (ABDUA 30025 / PCF 104957) The closer-to-original copy of the Riley, with extensive inscription along the whole of the top. Here is given much detail of the circumstances of the McIlwraith acquisition: ‘ “...The portrait commission by Marischal was part of the College's attempt to distance itself from its Jacobite heritage after the defeat of 1715 and ingratiate itself with the Hanoverian dynasty. McIlwraith (fl1715-53) was an English painter resident in Edinburgh in the first half of the Eighteenth century. He was commissioned by Marischal College to copy this work from an original by John Riley....” Author: Morrison, John. Date: 2002...’ There is more still in the Full Museum Record notes: ‘Cost £69 6/- Scots in 1723 to be painted, there is a record in the university referring to the purchase and subsequent donation of the portrait. There are two versions of this work, some uncertainty as to which is which.’ Indeed: surely they have this one and the next the wrong way round?

3. (ABDUA 30638 / PCF 104904) The portrait under discussion, apparently signed and dated ‘And. McIlvraith / pinxit / 1723’. In fact the reading as ‘McIlvraith’ is probably wrong, the ‘l’ and ‘w’ of McIlwraith being conjoined. The Full Museum Record notes add: ‘Copy, possibly late 19th c, contemporary with the frame; There are two versions of this work it is uncertain which is which...Conserved in 2006 by The Conservation Studio, 27 Duke Street, Leith (see object history file).’

So here is the nub of (some of) the confusion. It is suggested that this second version (no.3), recently restored, is a much later copy of McIlwraith’s 1723 commissioned copy of Riley, which they therefore assume must (or may) be no.2 above. I agree that the condition of no.3 seems exceptionally good, and the conservator will obviously have had a closer view of the paintwork and canvas than is possible for us, but I must say I am surprised. It seems odd that a late C19th copyist would have added such an authentic-looking signature and date, neither of which is present on no.2. And looking in detail at the sitter’s face on the high-res, I would say that it looks to me exactly as I would expect it to – a genuine and contemporary early C18th face, by a provincial hand and/or someone of relative youth and inexperience. I might add that the apparently high price of £69 6s is not at all: the ‘pound Scots’ was worth just one-twelfth of an English pound, so the cost was actually a mere £5-15s-6d. At the time in London even ‘undercutting’ artists like Aikman, Smibert (both Scots) and Gibson were asking ten or fifteen guineas for an original of this size (50x40 in.), to the annoyance of others who wanted to see 20 gns as the accepted minimum. Even allowing for provincial prices and it being a copy, I’d have thought an artist prepared to do it for under £6 would be considered cheap – and that fits with the limited skills on display here.

Unless there is some compelling evidence that it must be later, I would invoke Ockham’s Razor. The simplest explanation, needing the fewest difficult assumptions, is probably the right one: this portrait, with a 1723 date and a McIlwraith signature, is indeed the 1723 commissioned copy by him.

Barbara Bryant,

I guess nothing is ever going to be simple, especially on Art Detective.
We could have done with all that info at the outset, but thanks Osmund for tracking it down.
Let's leave aside Hoadly for a while and concentrate on the Riley copies, for which, as I noted earlier, it would be useful to see the Scottish National Portrait Gallery's version.
I also agree that the McIlwraith's signature looks perfectly right for the period and therefore this version (i.e. the one we are discussing) is unlikely to be a 19C copy.

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks for spotting that, Oliver - a very helpful bit of evidence indeed. Also worth noting the apparently excellent condition of the paint layer on that one.

Jacob Simon,

This discussion, “Is this portrait of Gilbert Burnet a copy after Godfrey Kneller?” has attracted 13 comments between September and November 2015. It concerns a ¾ length portrait in the collection of the University of Aberdeen. The key lengthy contribution to the discussion was made by Osmund Bullock (3 October), drawing on information from the University’s website, which has since been restructured. Out of interest, it is worth noting that in an Edinburgh parish marriage register for 1715, available on Scotlands People website, Andrew Mcilwraith is described as a limner.

There are three versions of the portrait in the University’s collection:

ABDUA 30024 / PCF 104903. In poor condition with holes. Artist given as Sarah Curtis Hoadly on Art UK. It is inscribed ‘Gilbert Burnet, D.D. BP. of Salisbury / painted by Mrs Hoadly’.
SUGGESTION: keep existing attribution

ABDUA 30025 / PCF 104957. With a lengthy inscription at the top. Attributed to Andrew McIlwraith (active 1715–1753) on Art UK. The university website documents the original commission to McIlwraith in 1723 but this text actually relates to the following portrait.
SUGGESTION: keep existing attribution in the absence of other evidence.

ABDUA 30638 / PCF 104904. The work under discussion. Artist given as Sarah Curtis Hoadly (1676–1742/1743) on Art UK. Signed and dated: ‘And. McIlvraith / pinxit / 1723’. The signature is close to that on another work, as noticed by Oliver Perry (October 2015). The documentation for this portrait, quoted on the university website as for the previous portrait, presumably relates to this one. SUGGESTION: Amend artist to: Andrew McIlwraith (fl. 1715-53).

All three versions seem to derive from a lost original by John Riley (1646-91), as suggested by Michael Liversidge (14 September).
SUGGESTION: All three could be described as ‘After John Riley (1646-91)’, as acknowledged on the university website. Perhaps include a note in any supporting text that they are close in detail to a smaller portrait of Burnet in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection and probably derive from a lost original.

The version of this painting on the Art UK website as on loan from the family to the National Trust for Scotland at Crathes Castle, is described as “Godfrey Kneller (1646–1723) (circle of)”.
SUGGESTION: amend to ‘after John Riley (1646-91)’.

A recommendation on closing this discussion needs to come from the Group Leader, Bendor Grosvenor, unless his comment on 6 November 2015 was such a recommendation, and needs to be put to the collection for approval.

Jacob Simon,

My previous comment was almost a year ago. Can we not take Bendor's comment on 6 November 2015 as a recommendation to close this 6 year old discussion and ask ArtUK now to obtain the collection's approval for closure?