Unknown - portrait of William Pitt the Younger

This miniature portrait by an unknown artist is of the famous English Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger (28 May 1759 – 23 January 1806). He was the son of William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778), who was Prime Minister of Great Britain (1766-1768).

William Pitt the Younger became the youngest ever Prime Minister of Great Britain between (1783-1801) and again between (1804-1806).

This miniature was probably painted after his death, perhaps to be sold as commemorative memorabilia in the years after his death. The miniature is interesting in a number of respects, although it is of far less importance than the other miniature shown below.

The National Portrait Gallery in London contains 145 portraits of Pitt, many of them being cartoons, but there appear to be no miniatures of Pitt in the collection. The main oil portrait of William Pitt on display in Room 20 at the National Portrait Gallery is described as "School of Hoppner" and so is regarded as a copy. However, to date I have not been able to determine if there is an original by John Hoppner, and if so, where it is. The original may even be lost completely.

From looking at the NPG website, there is one watercolour of Pitt which may be from life, but every other item is a copy of one kind or another, whether an engraving, a sculpture, or a print. For a link to the NPG portraits see William Pitt

The miniature shown here, is now the second miniature of Pitt in this collection and miniatures of him are therefore presumed to be uncommon, if not rare.

Comparison of the first and second miniature can be made, although Pitt is some twenty years different in age between the two portraits. The first miniature as shown here, is engraved on the reverse "Rt Hon'ble William Pitt".

It is believed to have been painted from life by John Donaldson (1737-1801). It has a lock of hair at the rear, and was acquired early in 2006.

Although, no attempt has been made to do so, it is presumed that a DNA analysis could be conducted on the hair sample, to determine whether the miniature can be completely confirmed as a miniature of Pitt. There is more about the first miniature at View

Although there are minor differences, it appears the second miniature is based upon a large oil portrait of William Pitt painted by John Hoppner.

There are various engravings in existence which were copied from the oil and it seems this second miniature is copied from one of those engravings.

When an engraver copies a portrait, the engraved plate will show the sitter facing in the same direction as the direction as the original. However, a print taken from that engraved plate, will then be a mirror image and show the sitter facing in the opposite direction to the original portrait.

Thus to ensure that the sitter is facing in the same direction as the original, an intermediate stage may be necessary, where a second engraving is made copying from a print made from the first engraving, so that when an image is printed from the second engraved plate, the sitter will be facing the correct direction.

(This has some parallels with the process by which vinyl records used to be produced. That was a five stage process involving; the original wax recording matt, a mould, a master, a stamper, and then the pressing available for sale.)

In the 18C and 19C an engraver copying a previous engraving may have never seen the original to know which way the sitter should be facing.

Additionally, when paintings were made by copying an engraving with a reversed image, oil portraits could appear that also faced the wrong direction. In such circumstances, the colouring of the oil copy could also differ from colours in the original.

Two examples of these varieties are shown here, one with a blue jacket instead of brown and the other a brown jacket, but with a reversed image.

As can be seen when making a comparison, the background colouring of the second miniature now added to the collection is different to that of the Hoppner oil and there are other minor differences, for example in the detail of the hair. This implies an intermediate stage between the original oil and the miniature. 1291

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