Catalogue entry

T01570 Thomas Pellett MD c.1735–9

Oil on canvas 764×635 (30 1/16×25)
Inscribed ‘Thomas Pellet M: D: Praeses Col. Med. Lond.’ in black paint along top edge of oval, and ‘W Hogarth’ upper right along edge of oval
Presented to the National Gallery by the Misses Rachel F. and Jean I. Alexander under the terms of a Deed of Gift 1959, entered collection (as N 06417) in 1972; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1972
PROVENANCE ...; according to letter in The Gentleman's Magazine, 1783, ‘in the possession of a gentleman at Manuden in Essex’; ...; J. Thane, from whom bt by Thomas Gwennap before 1819; bt from him by ‘Mr. Penny’ 1821; ...; H.R. Willett of Shooter's Hill before 1833; ...; W.H. Forman by 1860 (as ‘A Gentleman wearing a wig and Alderman's gown’ by unknown artist); by descent to Major A.H. Browne 1869 and transferred by him to Callaly Castle, Northumberland, 1890, sold Sotheby's 27 June 1899 (1 as ‘Man in a Wig’ by Kneller) bt Colnaghi, sold to W.C. Alexander 1904 and by descent to his daughters Rachel and Jean Alexander
EXHIBITED T. Gwennap's Gallery, 20 Lower Brook Street 1819(6); Georgian England, Whitechapel Gallery, 1906 (71); The Alexander Bequest, National Gallery 1972 (no number)
ENGRAVED Line engraving by C. Hall, pub. 1 June 1781 by J. Thane
LITERATURE ‘W.S.’, letter in The Gentleman's Magazine, Pt.1, 1783, p.315; Nichols 1785, pp.407, 529, Nichols 1833, pp.vii, 386; An Inventory of the Household Furniture etc. ... at Pippbrook House, Dorking, bequeathed by the Will of William Henry Forman, Esq. dated 24 April 1860, 1869, p.213, no.7 in ‘List of Paintings’. The list of paintings was reprinted almost unaltered in Catalogue of the Works of Antiquity and Art collected by the late W.H. Forman ... and removed in 1890 to Callaly Castle, Northumberland, by Maj. A.H. Browne, 1892, p.205; Dobson 1902, p. 185, repr.; Beckett 1949, p.59, fig.102; G. Wolstenholme & D. Piper, Portraits of the Royal College of Physicians, 1964, p.328; Baldini & Mandel 1967, p.104, no.114, repr.; Paulson 1971, I, p.450; A. Smith, ‘Presented by the Misses Rachel F. and Jean I. Alexander: seventeen paintings for the National Gallery’, Burlington Magazine, CXIV, 1972, p.630, fig.30; Webster 1979, p.184, no.103, repr.

Thomas Pellett (?1671–1744) graduated in 1694 as bachelor of medicine at Queen's College, Cambridge, and proceeded to his MD in 1705. He visited Italy with Dr Richard Mead in 1695 and studied for a time at Padua. In 1716 he was elected a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and held many offices there between 1717 and 1741, including that of President 1735–9. In this portrait he is shown in his Presidential robes and one can assume that it was painted sometime during Pellett's tenure of this office.

It would appear that Pellett was an admirer of Hogarth, as the sale of his enormous library of scientific and classical books on 7 January 1745 (Joseph Brigstock, eventually incorporated in Sotheby's) included not only a small section of prints by Callot, Coypel, Hollar and Cheron, but also first impressions of Hogarth's engravings of ‘Hudibras’, ‘The Harlot's Progress’, ‘The Rake's Progress’ and ‘many other of his Pieces’ (lots 355–6). Several sets and editions of Don Quixote, Hudibras, and a sumptuously bound copy of the text and music of The Beggar's Opera and Polly further suggest that they had certain interests in common.

The portrait was engraved by Charles Hall and published 1 June 1781 by J. Thane, who appears to have owned it at the time. The dealer Thomas Gwennap included it in his exhibition of twenty-seven works by Hogarth - some genuine, most spurious - in his Lower Brook Street Gallery in 1819, and stated in his catalogue that he had procured it directly from ‘the late Mr Thane’ (a copy of this rare catalogue is in the Soane Museum). Nichols then claims (1833, p.386) that the painting was bought ‘at Gwennap's sale April 5, 1821, by Mr. Penny for £5.5s. Now in the collection of H.R. Willett, Esq. of Shooter's Hill’. However, in a footnote on Willett's collection in the preface of the same book (p.vii) he states that ‘The Portrait of Dr. Pellett is not in his possession’. The next certain appearance of the painting is in Messrs Colnaghi's records, showing that it was bought as a Kneller at the Callaly Castle sale in 1899, and the only item in the Callaly Castle/Pippbrook House inventory that could correspond to the ‘Kneller’ is no.7, the unattributed portrait of ‘A Gentleman Wearing a Wig and Alderman's Gown’.

Another portrait of Pellett, by Michael Dahl, signed and dated 1737 (Wolstenholme & Piper 1964, repr. p.328), belongs to the Royal College of Physicians.


Published in:
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988