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Thomas Hudson 1701-1779
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Thomas Hudson 1701-1779

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Three quarter length portrait of Sir William Browne (1692-1774) sitting in a red-upholstered chair and wearing the regalia of President of the Royal College of Physicians whose silver Caduceus he holds in his right hand; his left rests on a book, richly-bound in red Morocco.

Oil painting on canvas 50 x 40 inches in a fine carved and giltwood frame

Signed “T Hudson fecit” dated 1766 and inscribed “D Gulielmus Browne Equ(es) A(ureus) (e)lectus Prov Coll Med 1765 (a)etat 7(3), ob(iit) 1772”

Engraved: in mezzotint by John Dixon, issued 1766
Exhibited: London, Kenwood, The Iveagh Bequest, Thomas Hudson, 1701-1779: Portrait painter and collector : a bicentenary exhibition. (Greater London Council, 1979)

Literature: Catalogue to the above exhibition, number 15

Thomas Hudson, a native of Devon, was by far the leading portrait painter in London for two decades in the middle years of the 18th century. He had arrived in London in the 1720’s after the death of Sir Godfrey Kneller, who had dominated London society portraiture for decades. He was taught to paint portraits by the redoubtable Jonathan Richardson, the artist, connoisseur, collector and theoretician of the arts.

His portrait practice by 1740 was substantial and highly successful, and numerous paintings by him survive. He continued the tradition of Van Dyck and Lely, and maintained a large studio with numerous talented young artists whom he taught: Henry Pickering, Joseph Wright of Derby, Sir Joshua Reynolds and others. He usually employed Joseph Van Aken as his drapery painter, and the consequence is that many of the works of these artists in these two decades are often difficult, when unsigned, to distinguish one from another.

His quality, though, is consistent, and his likenesses truthful: they are the sound Georgian Prose and may be contrasted with the feathery rococo poetry of painters of the next generation, most notably Gainsborough.

Sir William Browne, (1692–1774), physician, was born in co. Durham, the son of a physician. After attending school in Durham he entered Peterhouse, Cambridge, in 1707; he graduated BA in 1711 and MA in 1714. In 1716, having received a licence from the university, he began to practise medicine at Lynn, Norfolk, where he lived for over thirty years. He was considered to be eccentric, but he succeeded in making a fortune, and in 1749 he moved to London, where he lived for the rest of his life in Queen Square, Bloomsbury. In 1721 he took his MD degree at Cambridge. In 1725 he was admitted a candidate at the Royal College of Physicians, and in the next year a fellow. On 1 March 1739 he was admitted a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1748 he was knighted through the influence of the duke of Montagu.

After settling in London, Browne held various offices of the College of Physicians, and in 1765 and 1766 he was president. At this time there was a violent dispute between the college and the licentiates. Browne was a defender of the privileges of the universities, and had offended the licentiates by his pamphlet in the college's dispute with Isaac Schomberg (Vindication of the Royal College of Physicians, 1753). Samuel Foote caricatured him on the stage in his farce The Devil on Two Sticks. Browne sent Foote a card complimenting him on his accuracy, but sending his own muff to complete the likeness. He found it difficult to maintain his dignity at the college, and on one occasion, when he was holding the comitia, the licentiates forced their way tumultuously into the room. Resolving to avoid such an affront in future, Browne decided to resign his office instead of holding it for the usual term of five years. On resigning the chair he delivered a humorous address, which was published in Latin and English. In this he declared that he had found fortune in the country and honour in the college, and that he now proposed to find pleasure at the medicinal springs. He accordingly went to Bath, where he called upon William Warburton at Prior Park. Warburton gives a ludicrous description of the old gentleman, with his muff, his Horace, and his spyglass, showing all the alacrity of a boy both in body and mind.

Browne returned to London, where, on St Luke's day 1771, he appeared at Batson's Coffee House in a laced coat and fringed gloves to show himself to the lord mayor. He explained his healthy appearance by saying that he had neither wife nor debts. His wife had died on 25 July 1763, in her sixty-fourth year; they had one daughter. Browne died on 10 March 1774. He was buried at Hillington, Norfolk, under a Latin epitaph written by himself. He left a will profusely interlarded with Greek and Latin, and directed that his Elzevir Horace should be placed on his coffin. He left three gold medals worth 5 guineas each to be given to undergraduates at Cambridge for Greek and Latin odes and epigrams. He also founded a scholarship of 20 guineas a year, at Peterhouse.

When George I presented Bishop Moore's library to the University of Cambridge, but sent troops to make Oxford quiescent: Joseph Trapp (1679 - 1747) wrote this epigram on Oxford's behalf

The King, observing with judicious eyes
The state of both his universities,
To Oxford sent a troop of horse, and why?
That learned body wanted loyalty;
To Cambridge books, as very well discerning
How much that loyal body wanted learning.

Browne penned the Cambridge answer to the rather better Oxford epigram:

The king to Oxford sent a troop of horse,
For tories own no argument but force;
With equal care to Cambridge books he sent,
For whigs allow no force but argument.


The red-morocco bound book which Browne holds in the portrait is a copy of the Statutes of the Royal College of Physicians Physicians given by John Caius (1510-1573). From the 1520s, the College began to elaborate its constitutional rules by enacting statutes, written in Latin. John Caius, when president, produced the first consolidated edition. The statutes outline the role and duties of the President and officers, procedures for election and rules of precedence. They also detail college conduct, including examination, and a comprehensive reading list for potential candidates for admission. The silver President's caduceus held by Browne in the portrait was also presented to the college by Caius.


The mace which is depicted upper left in the present portrait was that which was made in by the silversmith Anthony Nelme and which is hallmarked for 1683. It is still in the collection of the college and in regular ceremonial use. It shares the design of the House of Commons mace and is carried today during presidential processions along with the caduceus – the president's symbol of office. Anthony Nelme, son of John Nelme, a yeoman of Muchmerkle, Herefordshire, was recorded as an apprentice to Richard Rowley in 1672 and was then made over to Isaac Deighton. Once he was free of the Goldsmiths' Company in 1690, Nelme was elected to the court of assistants in 1703 and was made fourth warden in 1717 and subsequently second warden in 1722. During the period of Huguenot prominence Nelme was the leading English-born goldsmiths and was a signatory to the petitions to the Goldsmith Company wardens protesting about the presence of the "necessitous strangers" in London.  

 

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Sir William Browne by John Dixon, after Thomas Hudson mezzotint, (1766) (NPG D845 © National Portrait Gallery, London)

 


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