William Pitt (1759-1806) Prime Minister
Engravingpublished 15 June 1789
About the work
This line engraving shows former Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger pointing at a document on a desk. Beside him, discarded on a chair, are his robes of office. An inkstand and bundles of other documents can be seen behind him. Published in 1789, the engraving was made by John Keyse Sherwin after a painting by Thomas Gainsborough, of which several versions exist. The original painting was begun by Gainsborough in 1787 is thought to be the version now at Chevening House, in Kent, the official residence of the Foreign Secretary. It has been suggested that the painting was completed after the death of Gainsborough by his nephew, Gainsborough Dupont (1754-1797).
About the artist
John Keyse Sherwin was born in Sussex, the son of Francis Sherwin, a labourer. He initially worked as a gardener on William Mitford’s estate near Petworth. In 1769, Mitford sent one of his drawings to the Society of Arts and the work won the silver medal. Sherwin later moved to London, where he studied painting under John Astley and engraving under Bartolozzi. In 1770 he entered the Royal Academy Schools. He set up his own studio in 1774, publishing his first engraving in 1775. During the next ten years he exhibited drawings of historical subjects. He also engraved works by Reynolds, Kauffman, Gainsborough and others. In 1785 he was made Historical Engraver to King George III. However, he died aged just 37 in an alehouse in Westminster.
One of the founders of the 18th-century British landscape school, Thomas Gainsborough was also the creator of the so-called ‘fancy picture’, depicting rustic figures - usually children - posed in rural settings. Born in Suffolk, he studied in London from about 1739 to 1748 under the French painter and engraver Hubert Gravelot and the British painter Francis Hayman at the St Martin’s Lane Academy. Gainsborough returned to Suffolk in 1748, where he worked as a landscape and portrait painter until 1759, before moving to Bath. There he quickly developed into a much sought-after society painter. In 1774, he moved to London where he exhibited his work in his studio. He died in London in 1788.