Portrait of John Kay of Bury

1860 in Europe and England
Thornton Rippingille
Painting. [John Kay d.1762] / nd. [c1860s].   Oil on canvas; 76

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Painting. [John Kay d.1762] / nd. [c1860s]. Oil on canvas; 76
Science Museum Group Collection
© The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum

Painting. [John Kay d.1762] / nd. [c1860s]. Oil on canvas; 76.5x64cm. Portrait; HS with tricorn hat. In gilt frame.

This portrait formed part of the Bennet Woodcroft Bequest, which was among the founding collections of the Science Museum. Woodcroft had developed a 'National Gallery of Portraits of Inventors, Discoverers and Introducers of the Useful Arts’ combining gifts, loans and purchases of portraits, while acting as the first curator of the Patent Museum.

This painting is possibly by Thornton Rippingille, an artist to whom Bennet Woodcroft gave several portrait commissions. Rippingille informed Woodcroft in July 1860 that he was painting Kay, and in November of the same year he sent the portrait to Woodcroft. Rippingille said that he copied the portrait from a photograph of a painting but did not know any further details. It is therefore unclear whether the photograph was of another copy or of the eighteenth-century original. The latter, a smaller oval portrait painted in the 1750s, had already been in Woodcroft’s collection for several years by 1860 and remains in the SMG Collection (1903-232).

In April of 1860, Woodcroft promised to share with Rippingille his preferred dimensions for copies derived from smaller portraits. These dimensions are the ‘three-quarter length’ (also known as bust-length) size, standardised in London by the 1650s, of around 30 x 25 inches. The dimensions of this painting of Kay match Woodcroft’s specification, making it possible that this is the Rippingille copy.

On 9 August 1860 Thomas Oldham Barlow wrote to Woodcroft asking to borrow the copy of Kay. It is unclear whether he was referring to the copy by Rippingille or another copy. If it was Rippingille’s, Woodcroft must have had possession of it before Rippingille sent it in November 1860.

This is the only copy that remains in the SMG Collection. Woodcroft would have been pleased to receive this version in his preferred size, particularly because he disliked oval portraits.


Object Number:
paint and textile
overall: 765 mm x 640 mm
oil painting and portrait
Woodcroft Collection