A little while ago, ardentpittite drew my attention to a book listing all the portraits painted by the artist George Romney and their sitters. The book can be found here. John sat for his portrait primarily in May and June 1783 (around the time he proposed to his future wife Mary Townshend), and William mainly in July 1783. Interestingly, the portraits were commissioned by Rev. Edward Wilson, their childhood tutor, for his vicarage at Binfield near Windsor.
While at the archives yesterday I spent some time searching through Wilson’s letters to the Dowager Countess of Chatham. Wilson remained a family connection long after the Pitt children grew up, and it turns out that his letters to Lady Chatham are full of lovely little details about them, particularly John and William, the only two who managed to live beyond the age of thirty. Wilson was clearly very proud of William, for obvious reasons, but he seems also to have been very fond of John too, and it’s not John’s fault that nearly all historians who have quoted from Wilson’s letters cut him out almost entirely from them.
Wilson does not forget to tell Lady Chatham about the arrival of one of the commissioned portraits. William’s, it seems, was a long time in coming (it wasn’t paid for till 1798!), but John’s was ready in March 1786 and Wilson reports its arrival to John’s mother as follows (7/8 March 1786, PRO 30/8/67 f 121):
“I must not forget to tell your Ladyship that we have had an accession to the Parsonage within these few days that has occupied no small share of our attention during our improvements viz my Lord Chatham’s Picture by Romney. It arriv’d four days ago, & we all think it an admirable likeness, & a charming Picture. It is in quite a plain undress; but we are all agreed that it is the richest ornament we cou’d have [on one] side of our Chimney; & I hope before long to match it [with] another as rich by the same hand. … The Picture has been in a very advanc’d state a great while, & I think the likeness admirably caught but somebody has been simple enough to say they thought otherwise, & that damper added to an infinity of business does but ill accord with our longings”.
I won’t attach a copy of John’s portrait here, but it can be found in Sir Tresham Lever’s House of Pitt (London, 1947) opposite page 346. This is only a black and white of course credited to Earl Stanhope at Chevening, but I have managed to track down the colour version. It’s still at Chevening (which is now, of course, the summer home of the Foreign Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister), and the Estate Office was kind enough to e-mail me a photograph. They retain the copyright so I can’t share it here, but … oh my god… I can’t describe what it does to me, I just can’t. *starry eyes*
So next time you see the above Pitt portrait knocking about on tumblr or elsewhere, remember: it was commissioned for the man who taught the boy to read and write. I reckon he had a right to be proud.