John Vanderbank

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A self-portrait drawing of Vanderbank, c. 1720

John Vanderbank (9 September 1694 – 23 December 1739)[1] was an English portraitist and book illustrator, who enjoyed a high reputation for a short while during the reign of King George I, but who died relatively young due to an intemperate and extravagant lifestyle.[2]


Vanderbank was born in London, the eldest son of John Vanderbank Snr, a Huguenot tapestry weaver, who had been born in Paris but forced to flee to Holland before coming to England where he became head of a Soho tapestry weaving factory.[3]

Vanderbank studied under Sir Godfrey Kneller at James Thornhill's art academy in Great Queen Street from 1711 until 1720, when he joined with Louis Chéron to found his own academy in St Martin's Lane. The venture proved a failure, and in 1729 he went to France to avoid his creditors. On his return he entered "the liberties of the Fleet" – mansion houses near Fleet prison, London, in which certain privileged prisoners could serve out their sentences in return for payment.[2]

It was noted by George Vertue that "only intemperance prevented Vanderbank from being the greatest portraitist of his generation." He died of tuberculosis in Holies Street, Cavendish Square, London, on 23 December 1739 (aged 45) and was buried in Marylebone church.[2]


Vanderbank's portraits, among which are those of many eminent persons, are skilfully drawn and full of character, but slight and careless in execution. He had a great talent for historical composition, and Vertue spoke highly of some of his works of this class.[2]

Vanderbank’s book illustrations include: the portrait of Sir Isaac Newton used in the frontispiece of the 1726 edition of Principia; the 66 plates of the first edition in Spanish of Cervantes' Don Quixote published in London (1738); and illustrations for 'Twenty-five Actions of the Manage Horse, engraved by Josephus Sympson (1729). His 1725 portrait of Sir Isaac Newton hangs in Trinity College, Cambridge. Many of his portraits were engraved by John Faber Jr. and George White. Vanderbank was amongst a group of artists painted by William Hogarth, of which there is an engraving by R. Sawyer.[2]

Selected works[edit]

John Vanderbank's 1737 portrait of Mary Howard, Duchess of Norfolk
Subject Date Medium Collection Location
Charles Spencer, 3rd Duke of Marlborough 1719 Oil on canvas British Government Art Collection UK
Woman Visiting a Sorceress 1721 Pastel on paper Courtauld Institute of Art Gallery London, England
Sir Isaac Newton 1725 Oil on canvas Trinity College Cambridge, England
Samuel Clarke National Portrait Gallery London, England
George I 1726 Oil Bowes Museum County Durham, England
The Volte Renversee to the Right 1728 Engraving Tate Gallery London, England
Don Quixote Addressing to Goatherds Oil on board Tate Gallery London, England
George Lambert 1729 Oil Cited by Waterhouse
Edward Wortley Montagu 1730 Oil on canvas British Government Art Collection UK
John Harvey 1732 Oil on canvas British Government Art Collection UK
Queen Caroline 1736 Oil Duke of Richmond and Gordon Goodwood, Sussex, England
Woman in White 1736 Oil on board Dulwich Picture Gallery UK
A Youth of the Lee Family 1738 Oil on board Tate Gallery London, England
Woman in a Blue Dress Oil on canvas Private Collection Ohio
Charles Christian Reisen Oil on canvas
Louisa Carteret 1736 UK
John Dodd, of Swallowfield, Berkshire 1739 Oil on canvas Yale Center for British Art New Haven, USA


  1. ^ Waterhouse, Ellis. Painting in Britain 1530–1790 (Penguin Books, 1957).
  2. ^ a b c d e Lee, Sidney, ed. (1899). "Vanderbank, John" . Dictionary of National Biography. 58. London: Smith, Elder & Co. p. 100.
  3. ^ Amal Asfour, Paul Williamson. Gainsborough's vision (Liverpool University Press, 1999) p71.

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