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George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824) poet

Thomas Phillips

George Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824) poet


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ArtistThomas Phillips (1770-1845)
TitleGeorge Gordon Noel Byron, 6th Baron Byron (1788-1824) poet
Date1813
MediumOil on canvas
ProvenanceFourth Earl of Lytton; bought from Earl of Lytton via Leggatt Bros. 1952
ExhibitionRoyal Academy, London, summer 1814 (catalogue number 84), as ‘Portrait of a nobleman in the dress of an Albanian’; Benaki Museum, Athens, 1974; National Portrait Gallery, London, 1982; Kostis Palamas Building, Athens, 22 January to 22 March 1988; 'Art on the Line: Royal Academy Exhibitions at Somerset House 1780 - 1836', Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, London, 17 October 2001 to 20 January 2002; temporary display at Nottingham Castle Museum, July to October 2002; 'Mad, Bad and Dangerous: The Cult of Lord Byron', National Portrait Gallery, London, 20 November 2002 to 16 February 2003, Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, 14 March to 30 April 2003; Regency Galleries, National Portrait Gallery, London, 19 May 2003 to 31 May 2004; 'British Orientalist Painting', Yale Center for British Art, U.S.A. 7 February to 28 April 2008, Tate Britain, 4 June to 31 August 2008, Pera Museum Istanbul, 26 September 2008 to 11 January 2009, Sharjah Art Museum, UAE, 18 February to 30 April 2009; St. Mary Magdalene Church, Hucknall, Nottinghamshire, 19 to 29 May 2009; 'Government Art Collection: Selected by Simon Schama: Travelling Light', Whitechapel Gallery, London, 16 December 2011 to 26 February 2012; 'Revealed: Government Art Collection', Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery 17 November 2012 to 24 February 2013, Ulster Museum, Belfast, 15 March to 9 June 2013
Dimensionsheight: 127.00 cm, width: 102.00 cm
Inscriptionbr: TP (monogram) 1814 ; verso: Lord Byron / in the dress of an Albanian 1814
AcquisitionPurchased from the 4th Earl of Lytton via Leggat Bros., December 1952
LocationGreece, Athens, British Embassy
GAC number1976
 

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In this portrait by Thomas Phillips, Lord Byron wears a red velvet jacket and headdress, with a velvet cloak draped across his left arm. Byron bought the costume in the town of Tepeleni, within the region of Epirus (part of modern Greece and Albania) in 1809, while travelling across southern Europe with his friend, the politician John Cam Hobhouse.

Byron sat for the painting in 1813, aged 25, and had some influence over its appearance. He was particularly sensitive to full-length representations of himself as he suffered from a lame foot. He also asked Phillips to repaint his nose in a more flattering fashion. The translucent paleness of the skin in Phillip’s depiction inspired Walter Scott to liken the it to an alabaster lamp, lit from within.

The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1814. It was later bought by Lady Judith Noel, Byron's mother-in-law, and hung at her residence, Kirkby Hall, in Leicestershire. Following the acrimonious separation of Byron and Lady Noel’s daughter, Annabella, in 1816, it was shut in a case. The painting was later bequeathed to Byron and Annabella’s daughter, Ada, on the occasion of her marriage.

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Thomas Phillips

Thomas Phillips was born in Dudley, Warwickshire, of modest means. He took up an apprenticeship with a stained glass painter, before moving to London in 1790 to study at the Royal Academy and work in the studio of Sir Benjamin West. Phillips exhibited work at the Academy between 1794 and 1844. In 1808, he was elected a Royal Academician and, in 1825, succeeded Henry Fuseli as Professor of Painting at the Academy. Phillips was a prolific artist, as demonstrated by the 859 portraits listed in his sitters’ notebook. However, today only about 300 portraits by the artist are known to survive.