This painting is on loan to the Ferens from the National Portrait Gallery and I’ve used their photo since their licensing allows for me to do that. And it’s nicer than my photo. I hadn’t realised that Wilberforce suffered badly from a curvature of the spine, which meant he had to wear a metal support. This illness is why the artwork is painted in the way that it was by Sir Thomas Lawrence, a popular portrait artist.
The artwork was painted in 1825 and was funded by Sir Robert Inglis, a friend of Wilberforce, to mark his retirement from Parliament. However, there was only one sitting and so the painting was never completed, with Lawrence dying in 1830. Inglis wouldn’t let anyone else finish the work, so it remained uncompleted. Inglis kept the painting and following his death it was given to the National Portrait Gallery in 1857, one of the earliest artworks in their collection which had only opened the previous year.
It’s a marvellous painting, or what there is of it is, lots of character and emotion in Wilberforce’s face.
The painting, and many other items relating to Wilberforce, are part of a temporary exhibition at the gallery, which was really well put together. Above is a photo taken from the opening of the William Wilberforce museum in the city, with the painting visible in the room in which he was born. I assume that this is the original painting that was once again on loan to the city.
Just for completeness, this was my photo of the painting.