William Pitt (1759-1806) Prime Minister
Engravingpublished 4 June 1810
About the work
This engraving was made after a painting by John Hoppner. Hoppner’s original oil portrait was commissioned by the diplomat and politician Henry Phipps, first Earl of Mulgrave (1755-1831), a strong supporter of Pitt. It hung in the Grocers' Hall (of the Grocers’ livery company) in the City of London but was destroyed when fire spread through the building in 1965, after a light bulb set fire to an oak lintel beneath the main staircase.
Although regarded by many as Hoppner's best work, the painting was also criticised on the grounds of 'so much hauteur and disdainful severity'. Hoppner and his studio made a number of copies of the portrait, as did other artists, including Ramsay Richard Reinagle (1775-1862) and Samuel Lane (1780-1859).
The publication of this print was announced in the press a year after Hoppner’s death. It was advertised as published ‘by Mrs. [Phoebe] Hoppner at Mr. L. Hoppner’s [presumably a son of the artist], No.18 Charles Street’. The advertisement also reported:
‘This portrait was the last for which Mr. Pitt sat, having been painted for Lord Mulgrave, in the October preceding his Death.’
About the artist
Little is known of the life of line engraver Thomas Bragg, who specialised in small portrait engravings. In 1906 a portrait of Bragg by John Hoppner was lent to an exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London. Bragg died at 22 Denmark Street, Camberwell, on 5 July 1840, aged 95. A few days later, an inquest was held, after it was suggested that Bragg had been poisoned. The jury’s verdict was that: ‘the deceased died of paralysis, arising from the natural rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, combined with the debilitating effects produced by a mortified wound in the back and loins.’ Bragg’s son was mentioned during the inquest.
John Hoppner, portrait painter, was born in London. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1775 and became a member of the Academy in 1795. He was appointed Portrait Painter to the Prince of Wales in 1789. However, from the 1790s his achievements were overshadowed by those of the portraitist Sir Thomas Lawrence. Hoppner's first royal portraits were of three of the Princesses and were exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1785. They show the influence of both Romney and Reynolds. Hoppner received numerous commissions, mainly from members of the Whig party. His best and most attractive portraits are considered to be his groups of children. He died in 1810 at his home in Charles Street, Mayfair.