William Pitt (1759-1806) Prime Minister
Mezzotintpublished 20 January 1806
About the work
William Pitt is portrayed in a black suit and white cravat. His right hand rests on the back of a chair, over which is the First Lord of the Treasury’s gown. His left hand is in his pocket. A broad column and sumptuous drapery are seen behind Pitt.
Hoppner’s original portrait of Pitt was commissioned by the diplomatist 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 that was left on 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 various other artists such as Ramsay Richard Reinagle (1775-1862) and Samuel Lane (1780-1859).
About the artist
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.