Unknown - portrait of William Pitt the Elder, First Earl of Chatham

A puzzling acquisition was a miniature portrait in enamel on metal of a man in 18C dress. It appears to be a Bilston enamel type portrait the size and shape of a convex snuff box cover, 72mm x 65mm, but set into a papier machie frame, 100mm x 84mm, with gilded floral ornamentation. The reverse is white enamel with a black over glaze inscription in 18C block printing "W.Pitt, Efqr." for William Pitt Esquire.

The miniature was acquired at auction from the same collection as the recently acquired Freese and Bossi miniatures, which also contained a number of decorative miniatures, but this appears to have genuine age, with the rear showing chipping at the edges of the enamel and an accumulation of dirt in the corners. 

The most obvious question is; Which William Pitt is depicted?

Initially, it was difficult to decide which Pitt it was, I was leaning towards it being an early portrait of the Younger, but a kind expert then pointed out an engraving of William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778) which I had overlooked. It is this portrait by 'Tom Trueblue', after William Hoare, which dates from c1754.

The Tom Trueblue version is circular, whereas the original Hoare version of 1754, showing in colour, is a large rectangular oil portrait. As is often the case with engravings, the sitter is looking in the opposite direction to the original. This is because the engraved plate shows the same pose, but the pages then printed from the plate show a reversed image. In addition it can be seen that the engraving is greatly cropped, compared to the oil.

The enamel portrait has curved corners at the bottom, but not the top. This shows it was copied from an oval or round portrait, as would be the case if copied from the engraving. The top of the enamel not needing to be curved, as no detail had been lost by the previous cropping.

While it is not certain the engraving was the source of the enamel, as there are some differences, it or a similar portrait appears to be the source. A point of enamel snuff boxes was to appear colourful, and a lot less time was taken in their preparation, than for a proper miniature portrait. Thus is to be expected there would be some artistic interpretation, to represent any changes in men's fashion between the date of the engraving and the date of the enamel. For example, wigs became looser, ribbons became more prevalent, as did colourful waistcoats. This was necessary, as a snuff box showing the sitter wearing unfashionable clothing would be less attractive to those customers keen to show how fashionable they were.

If the engraving is accepted as the source, it must date to after the date of the oil, i.e. 1754. At the other end, the date of enamel needs to precede August 1766 as that was the date that Pitt accepted the title of Earl of Chatham. Pitt was in and out of favour between 1754 and 1766, but the most likely date for the enamel seems to be 1761. After his resignation in October 1761, the King urged Pitt to accept a mark of royal favour. Accordingly he obtained a pension of £3000 a year and his wife, Lady Hester Grenville was created Baroness Chatham in her own right - although Pitt refused to accept a title himself. Thus, the enamel was most likely made to commemorate this event.

Although it is set into a composition black frame, with gilt decoration of vine leaves, it is possible that the frame was added at a later date, with the enamel originally being made as the lid of a snuff box. Although, I have been unable to find any similar examples for comparison, it seems that the portrait is a Bilston enamel portrait made c1761. However, any expert views would be welcome. 1412

Any Pitt scholars who read this, may be interested to also read an 18C poem about Pitt, which to the best of my knowledge, has previously been unrecognised as a "Pitt poem". It is by Manasseh Dawes and is one of three satirical poems by Dawes, superficially about pet dogs, but actually commenting on parliamentary figures. The other two being Henry Fox and Frederick North.

Recent academic comment has described the poems as being about three pet dogs, but research for my biography of Sir Anthony Carlisle revealed that, when taken together, they were in fact clever political satires. With Dawes being the uncle of Carlisle's wife, Martha. The research is covered in the biography at The Real Mr Frankenstein but for convenience, a copy of the Pitt satire is shown here. Pitt was also known as The Great Commoner, due to his long-standing refusal to accept a title and the Dawes verse alludes to him resisting fraud.

Another on Perto
Happy creature, how secure
From all the troubles we endure
In this corrupted age!
A sordid prudence drew thee hence,
From fraud and fell impertinence,
So rife among the sage
An animal so wise as you,
So fond, so pert, so just, so true,
Demands a pleasing thought:
And tho' a dog affords the theme,
If man would deign to live the same,
He'd act as nature taught.
Not as a monster or an elf
He'd vainly boast his wretched self
On birth on sense on taste:
But follow that true golden rule,
That honesty is not a fool,
Tho' copied from a beast. i
i Dawes, M (Manasseh), Miscellanies in Prose and Verse on Various Occasions, London, 1776, p 26

[As an aside, researching the Carlisle biography has been an fascinating journey for me, and it has been continually amazing to realize how much new information about the 18C can still be uncovered, these three satires being but a modest example.]

For those interested, there are two miniature portraits of William Pitt the Younger in this collection, as showing here. The earlier one attributed to John Donaldson and the later by an unknown hand.

For more about them, see View and  View


S said...

Hello! I greatly enjoyed reading your post about Pitt the Elder, as I am a keen Pitt the Younger researcher. I have a small Pitt collection myself, and I am always very keen to learn more about both Pitt the Elder as well as (and especially) Pitt the Younger. I shall look forward to your future entries! :)

Don Shelton said...

Many thanks, If you have not already clicked on the two View links at the bottom of the post, to do so will take you to the two miniatures of Pitt the Younger.