Sitter in 1 portrait
Artist associated with 5 portraits - Donor of 1 portrait
Naval official and diarist
Donor of 1 portrait
Artist: by Sir Godfrey Kneller, Baronet
Medium: oil on canvas
Measurements: height 2388 mm. (94 in.) width 1448 mm. (57 in.)
to lower right of sitter: 'G. Kneller Eques/ faciebat Ao 1701'
Acquisition: gift from Samuel Pepys, 1702
Location: Examination Schools
Whole length, standing slightly to left; white hair and eyebrows; black skull-cap; square bands; scarlet robe and hood with red silk sleeves and facings; black scarf; his right hand holds a square cap, his left before him displays a gold signet ring on the index finger of his left hand; to left a table with a book, a gold medal and chain, and papers, one showing a detailed algebraic diagram; architectural and curtain background. Silver gilt frame inscribed in cartouche at bottom: 'Hanc/Magni Wallisii Oxoniensis/ Celeberrimae Academiae Oxoniensi/ D.D.D./ Samuel Pepys/ Car & Jac: Angl: Regib: a Secretis Admiraliae'
In his diary entry of 16 December 1666 Samuel Pepys noted: 'Here also was Dr. Wallis, the famous scholar and mathematician; but he promises little.' (R.C. Latham and W. Matthews eds, The Diary of Samuel Pepys 11 vols, 1970-1983, 7, p.410) Pepys's acquaintance with Dr Wallis later improved, and in 1695 Wallis presented Pepys with a copy of his works. In 1699, Wallis then 83 years old, began to complain of 'decays', and Pepys's felt moved, as he later wrote to the painter, Sir Godfrey Kneller, 'towards immortalizing the memory of the person (for his name can never dye) of that great man and my most honoured friend', by presenting his portrait to the University of Oxford. (J.R. Tanner, ed. Private Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers of Samuel Pepys 1679-1703, 2 vols, 1926, 2, p.257, 26 March 1702) Kneller was then at the height of his career, and the most important portrait painter in the country. In 1689 he had become principal painter to the King; in 1695 he received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, and in 1699 William III gave him a large gold medal.
An autograph letter from Kneller to the Revd Dr Arthur Charlett, Master of University College, dated from London, April 1699, suggests that his portrait of Wallis was then in hand: 'I was not so happy as to see you when I was drawing Dr. Wallis picture, and heard nothing from you since, nor Mr Pepys which I think expects some lines from you and to hear you wish to have the picture placed in the Gallery of which he tells me you and he have often discussed and wished for and he being very much contented with what I have done by your desiring too. I do not doubt but you will have his thanks and the picture gone as it is designed. ... Your obliged and very humble/ Servant G Kneller/ April the 4 1699/ London' (Ballard MSS, XI, letter 68, Bodleian Library)
If Wallis did sit to Kneller in 1699, the commencement of the portrait was precipitate, and this may have contributed to misunderstandings that surrounded its commissioning, painting, and donation. Evident in letters between donor, sitter and artist, these misconceptions did not relate to the work itself, but rather to Pepys's intention to present the portrait as a gift to the University of Oxford. It was important to Pepys to ensure that the portrait was properly given, so that the significance and meaning of his gift should not be lost in the process. 'I am not without some concernment least it may not (through some slipp of mine in the doeing) fayle in some thing or other of which might have been better done, for the answering the respect I mean by it, first to my friend the invaluable Dr Wallis, and then to the most illustrious University and the duty I shall bee ever proud to pay it.' (J.R. Tanner, ed. Private Correspondence and Miscellaneous Papers of Samuel Pepys 1679-1703, 2 vols, 1926, 2, p.270, 13 Sept 1702) As stated in the diploma conferred on Pepys by the University in 1702 in acknowledgement of his gift, the subject of the portrait was not simply 'our most learned Professor', but 'the Very Mathematicks' and 'Your unexampled Generosity' (ibid., 2, p.282).
In September and October 1700, Charlett corresponded with Pepys about the possibility of Kneller coming to Oxford to paint Dr Wallis's portrait, but it was not until 24 September of the following year, 1701, that Wallis recorded sitting to the artist. He wrote to Pepys: 'You have been pleased to put an honour upon me which I could not deserve nor did expect; to send so worthy an artist as Sir Godfrey Kneller from London to Oxford to take my picture at length, and put the charge of it to your own account.' (ibid. 2, pp.235-236) That Wallis was not entirely comfortable with the arrangement is evident, however, in the remainder of the letter in which he stated he would rather have waited on Pepys in London, if his circumstances had permitted him, and concluded: 'I have endeavour[ed] to express to Sir Godfrey the sense I have of your undeserved favour by treating him with the respect due to a person of his quality. And if I have been therein defective, I desire it may be imputed to the absence of my daughter, who is my house-keeper, but chanced to be now out of town; whereby I was obliged to depend on servants.' (ibid.)
The following spring Pepys received a troubled letter from Kneller in which the artist stated that he 'did acquaint you then of what I had done, of which you approved in your letter to me... Which letter of yours made me procede and finish that picture...' (24 March 1701-02, op. cit. p.255). Kneller added that he 'should hardly [have] left my home and busenis for Oxford's conversation sake, and wish you had given me one hint in your letter of dislyking what I had then done, and I would have kept the face (as I only then had done) for my self without putting any figure, as I have done all my self to it. ... And I can show I never did a better picture nor so good a one in my lyf...' (ibid.)
Pepys was not dissatisfied with the portrait itself, but he was surprised at Kneller's hasty manner of proceeding with the commission. Kneller and Charlett wrote separately to Pepys with explanations which suggest that 'the paynter's fancy was warm, and his imaginations not to be controled, it seems, with delays.' (op. cit. 2, p.268, Dr Charlett to Mr Pepys, 3 Sept 1702) Although, as Charlett observed, Pepys's 'judgment might have added to the beauty of the contrivance' had he been present at the sittings, Pepys lost no opportunity to shape the viewer's perception of the portrait in personally supervising the making of the frame. (ibid.)
'I understand you have a frame a-making for that picture' Kneller wrote to Pepys in July, 'which I desire to see put on at my house and all packt together in a case safe, for I intend to send my servent with it to Oxford, for to place it and look that no dammige may appear.
'And I will when you please send the porters to fetch it, and varnish it well bevor it goes, and finish all to the utmost of my skill.' (op. cit. 2, p.265, 29 July 1702).
Pepys sent the portrait to Oxford under the care of his own workman, Mr Moore, 'as the only hand I was willing to trust with the doeing and adjusting every thing requisite to the safe fitting and fixing it in the place which Dr Hudson [Bodley's Librarian] has pitched on for it.' (op. cit., 2, p.270, 13 Sept 1702, Pepys to Dr Charlett). At the same time he informed Charlett that 'Sir Godfrey Kneller has ... putt his best hand to our picture, and seemes aequally satisfied concerning it with respect both to the piece it selfe and to the dress I have putt it into. ... I have done my best towards it. Nor lett its comeing in a lackered frame lead you to thinke otherwise, for I could have sent it in the same with my Lord of Ormonde's guilt for lesse mony. But I was ledd to it by the advice of Sir G. Kneller's owne man, in consideration of its first luster being nothing inferiour to that of gold, and its being for ever kept soe (when time shall tarnish it) and the 20th part of the charge and trouble that gold will. ... And very hard I should have strayned (could I have foreseene it) to have given the compartment on my frame a little more extent, soe as to have taken in my reverend friend's stile of Professor Savilianus; for I had it in my first designe, but was ledd to the laying it aside for feare only of swelling the compartment unnecessarily beyond what the toe of the figure would properly have allowed.' (ibid., 2, p.270)
The portrait was hung in the Bodleian Library next to that of the founder of the Savilian professorship, the mathematician and classical scholar, Sir Henry Savile. In his letter of thanks to Pepys, the Vice-Chancellor, Dr Mander, 'hope[d] by such incouragements as these the usefull part of learning, I mean the Mathematicks, wherein the eminency of the Doctor cheifly consists, will be more cultivated and improved amongst us than formerly 't'as been.' (op. cit., 2, p.275, 16 Sept 1702) The Vice-Chancellor's comment suggest that portraits such as Kneller's of Wallis had the potential then to enhance the status of an academic discipline within the University.
Wallis's international reputation rests, in fact, on both aspects of his work as a mathematican and cryptographer, and both are commemorated in the portrait. On the table to his left is a paper on which Kneller accurately copied a diagram illustrating the relation between the ellipse and the hyperbola. The diagram was reproduced in Wallis's Opera Mathematica, 3 vols (1699), II, Chapter 93, p.375. The brown binding, which bears the short title 'Algebra' inscribed in gold on red leather on the spine, corresponds to that on the volume also seen on the table beside Wallis. The title of the volume on the table is obscured, however, by a gold medal placed in front of it. Resting on top of the medal's gold chain is a folded letter. The medal and chain were awarded to Wallis in 1691 by Frederick III, Elector of Brandenburg (from 1701 Frederick I, King in Prussia), for his services in deciphering intercepted correspondence relating to actions by Louis XIV in Poland which potentially threatened the security of the German state.
Kneller's careful attention to the significance of the objects on the table perhaps led him to overlook details of Wallis's academical dress, or to confuse them with his own. Wallis was admitted as a doctor of divinity at Oxford in 1654. His full dress robe was scarlet, but the facings and sleeves would have been of black velvet. In his portrait he is wearing the gown of a doctor of civil law, with sleeves of crimson silk.
In a letter whose modesty perfectly reciprocates Pepys's generosity, Wallis gave his 'bare thanks' for the honour conferred on him by the gift to the University of his portrait. 'Which I hope they will be carefull long to preserve, as a lasting memorial of your munificence and of the great skill of Sir Godfrey Kneller (which is highly commended) when I shall be forgotten.' (op. cit., 2, p.276, 26 Sept 1702)
On the same day, Dr Charlett advised Pepys that 'your extraordinary care and conduct and judgment and civility in all the method and circumstances of placing it in the Bodleian Gallery, require a particular and distinct acknowledgement, and looks like a Roman consecration of some of theyr antient statues.' (op. cit. 2, p.277) 'By the command of the University, assembled in full Convocation', he wrote again on 30 October 'to present Mr Pepys with theyr most sincere and affectionate thanks for his noble testimony of respect and affection to Learning and this University in the picture of one of theyr Professors, placed by him lately in theyr Gallery of Pictures, among theyr Founders, Benefactors and men of eminent worth and quality. His letter accompanied a diploma given and sealed in the University's Convocation House, addressed to 'Ornatissimo optimoque viro SAMUEL PEPYS, ARMIGERO, Regibus Carolo Secundo et Jacobo Secundo à Secretis Admiraliae, Universitas Oxoniensis.' (op. cit, 2, pp.282-285)
Receipt of the portrait was recorded in the Bodleian Library's accounts: 'Item paid for bringing and placing Dr Wallis picture £01.11.06' ('Expensae Extraordinariae', 1701-02, Bodleian Library Accounts 1676-1813, Library Records c.28, p.34 verso, Bodleian Library) It seems that the laquering recommended by Kneller's 'owne man' tarnished. The Vice-Chancellor's accounts detail an 'Item paid for New lackering Dr Wallis's Picture ... £06: 00:00' ('Expensae Extraordinariae', Comptus Vice Can, 6 Oct 1726-7 Sept 1727, Oxford University Archives, Wpbeta/21/6, no pagination).
In a journal entry recording his journey to Oxford of 15 July 1760, Horace Walpole noted 'Dr Wallis by Sir Godfrey Kneller, whole length, head very fine.' (H. Walpole, 'Horace Walpole's Journals of Visits to Country Seats etc.', ed. P. Toynbee, Walpole Society, 1928, p.24) A hundred years later, Sir George Scharf, then Keeper of the National Portrait Gallery, visited the Bodleian Picture Gallery and noted 'a whole length of Dr Wallis in a silver frame presented by S Pepys' (G Scharf, TSB, XI, 18 June 1867, p.79, NPG Archive)
The portrait was transferred to the Examination Schools by Act of Congregation in 1951: 'That the Curators of the Bodleian Library be authorized to deposit in the Examination Schools the John Wallis by Kneller' (Congregation Acts 29 May 1951, 19; Gazette, LXXXI, 31 May 1951, p.933)
A half-length copy after Kneller is in the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 578); chalk and pencil copy of the head in the Radcliffe Observatory (Lane Poole, I, p.227, no.690).
Three-quarters length mezzotint by John Faber, Senior; engraving by R. Cooper, published by Henry Colburn, 1825, re-issued 1827.
Oxford Exhibition of Historical Portraits, Examination Schools, Oxford, 1905, no.163
A. Wood, History and Antiquities of the University of Oxford ed. by J. Gutch, 2 vols (1792-1796), II, Part II, p.962; G. Scharf, '[Personal] Sketchbook', SSB [Scharf Sketch Book] no.54, 1858-59, p.127 (National Portrait Gallery Archive, London); G. Scharf, 'Trustee Sketchbooks, Oxon I, p.71, XI, 18 June 1867, p.79 (National Portrait Gallery Archive, London); J. Chaloner Smith, British mezzotinto portraits 4 vols (1884), 1, p.298, no.76); Illustrated catalogue of a loan collection of portraits of English historical personages who died between 1625 and 1714: exhibited in the Examination schools, Oxford, April and May, MDCCCCV (1905), no.163; R. Lane Poole, Catalogue of Portraits in the possession of the University, Colleges, City, and County of Oxford, 3 vols (1912, 1925), I, p.74, no.184; [H. Walpole], 'Horace Walpole's Journals of Visits to Country Seats' ed. P. Toynbee, Walpole Society, XVI (1928), p.24; G. Vertue, 'Note-books V', Walpole Society, XXVI (1938), p.17; J.D. Stewart, Sir Godfrey Kneller and the English baroque portrait (1983), p.139, no.829; information regarding gold medal and algebraic diagram kindly given by Philip Beeley, editor of Wallis's correspondence
Annette Peach, ‘OP88 John Wallis (1616-1703)’, Portraits in Oxford, online edn, 2006,
[http://www.odl.ox.ac.uk/oxfordportraits/portrait.php?w=88, accessed 25th May 2013]