William Congreve (1670-1729) playwright and poet
About the work
The playwright and poet William Congreve wears a wig and velvet coat as he gestures to the English landscape in the background of this mezzotint portrait.
This print, after an original portrait by Godfrey painter Sir Godfrey Kneller, was published in 1733. The original is one of the 48 portraits of members of the Kit-Cat Club (committed to the furtherance of Whig objectives), commissioned from Kneller by founding member Jacob Tonson the elder, a bookseller. The original portrait is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. Kneller’s drawing of Congreve’s facial features, made in preparation for the painting, is in the collection of the Courtauld Institute, London.
The plaque on Congreve’s memorial at Westminster Abbey includes a copy of this portrait in relief by sculptor Francis Bird. It was commissioned by Henrietta Godolphin, second Duchess of Marlborough, with whom Congreve fathered a daughter, Mary.
About the artist
Godfrey Kneller was born in Lübeck, Germany. He moved to Amsterdam in 1662 to study painting under Rembrandt and Ferdinand Bol. He later trained with Gianlorenzo Bernini and Carlo Maratta in Rome. He returned to Lübeck in 1675, before moving to Hamburg and then to London to study the works of van Dyck. In England he received commissions from prominent figures, including Charles II. Charles sent Kneller to France in 1684, to paint the portrait of Louis XIV. Kneller maintained his position at court after the accession of James II in 1685 and, when William and Mary came to the throne, he and portraitist John Riley became joint Principal Painters to the Crown. Following Riley’s death, Kneller alone retained the position. He was 77 when he died.