The Death of the Earl of Chatham

  • About the work
    Location
    Country: USA
    City: Boston
    Place: British Consulate-General

    This engraving, after a painting by John Singleton Copley, shows an event which took place in the House of Lords on 7 April 1778. Following the Duke of Richmond’s speech against the British Government's attack on American colonies and in favour of American independence, former Prime Minister William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, rose to reply. In poor health and on crutches, Chatham made an impassioned speech before collapsing in a sudden fit. He died a month later at his home in Kent. Copley's painting of the scene, which is over two metres high and three metres wide, and includes some 55 portraits, is now in the Tate collection.

    In 1781 Copley announced that the Italian engraver Francesco Bartolozzi would engrave the work for publication and a subscription was set up. The engraving appeared in 1791 but owing to damage to the plate only 2,500 impressions could be made (of which this is one). So Copley commissioned French engraver Jean Marie Delattre to make a second plate. The artist intended to circulate this print more widely at a lower price but was so disappointed with the quality of Delattre’s work that he refused to pay for it. A lawsuit followed, which Delattre won and his print was finally published in 1820.

  • About the artist
    John Singleton Copley was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Irish immigrants, who owned a tobacco shop. His father died when he was a young and his mother later married English artist and schoolteacher Peter Pelham. Pelham may have introduced Copley to Scottish émigré and artist John Smibert, whose studio he visited regularly. In 1766, Copley sent the painting ‘Boy with a Squirrel’ to the Society of Artists in London, where it was praised by Benjamin West. In 1769, he married Susannah Farnham, with whom he had five children. Encouraged by West, Copley relocated to London in 1774, living in Soho and later in Westminster. He had a moderately successful career in London, painting mainly history and portrait subjects. He died aged 77.
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  • Details
    Title
    The Death of the Earl of Chatham
    Date
    published 1 May 1791
    Medium
    Engraving
    Acquisition
    Purchased from Colnaghi, April 1952
    Provenance
    Collection of Prince Loewenstein; Liechenstein Collection; with Colnaghi, London; from whom purchased by the Ministry of Works in April 1952
    GAC number
    1549