John Somers, Baron Somers (1651-1716) lawyer and politician

  • About the work
    Country: UK
    City: London
    Place: Government Art Collection

    The original portrait on which this engraving is based is now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London. It was painted in 1711, the last year in the life of the sitter, lawyer and politician John Somers. At that time, Somers’ health was rapidly declining. He is depicted holding a first edition of poet Edmund Spenser's The Faerie Queene, published in 1715 and dedicated to him. This is the Kit-Cat Club portrait of Somers; one of a series of portraits of members of the Kit-Cat Club commissioned from portraitist Godfrey Kneller. The portraits hung together at the Club’s meeting place at Barn Elms; a Georgian manor house in Barnes, London. Other portraits of Somer, painted by Kneller, are that of c.1690 at Eastnor Castle in Herefordshire (constructed by the first Earl Somers, a descendant of the sitter) and another of c.1700-10 at Knole House in Kent.

  • About the artist
    George Vertue was born in the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London. His parents served in the court of James II and his father may have later become a tailor. He was first apprenticed to a silver engraver and later to Flemish engraver Michael Vandergucht. His early work includes plates after Kneller, whose academy he attended from 1711. Vertue served as official engraver to the Society of Antiquaries (1717-56). In the 1720s he concentrated on portrait frontispieces, producing over 120 in total. From 1727 he was engraver to Oxford University. Vertue was also a publisher and ran a print shop near Drury Lane. In 1712 he began gathering information for a publication on the history of art in Britain, which remained unfinished at his death.
    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.
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  • Details
    John Somers, Baron Somers (1651-1716) lawyer and politician
    published 1711
    Purchased from Mrs Dorothy Lane, February 1958
    GAC number