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Title Portrait of Mrs Joseph Priestley (1744 - 1769)
Collection Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Artist Breda, Carl Fredrik von (Swedish artist, 1759-1818)
Date 1793 (dated)

Mrs Priestley was the daughter of Isaac Wilkinson of Barham, near Wrexham and married Dr Joseph Priestley, the scientist and Nonconformist minister in 1762. Dr and Mrs Priestley settled in Birmingham in 1780 but left after the sacking of their house by an anti-Jacobite mob in 1791. In 1794, they emigrated to the USA and Mrs Priestley died in Northumberland Town, New Hampshire on 17 September 1796, aged 52. Extracts from Corry's Life of Joseph Priestley (1804) suggest that she was a woman of considerable character, an excellent manager, sometimes sharp with her servants, but none the less kind and generous. Breda painted her aged about 49, a year before emigrating to America in 1794.

Breda was born in Stockholm and studied under Reynolds. He lived in Birmingham in 1792 and also painted portraits of James Watt and Matthew Boulton. In a letter dated 27 March 1793 to Matthew Boulton, Breda wrote: 'Mrs Galton applied to me for Mrs Priestley's Portrait. This portrait is now nearly finished and shall be sent to Birmingham as soon as it is perfectly dry.'

Current Accession Number 1906P31
Former Accession Number P.3106
Subject portrait (Mrs Joseph Priestley)
Measurements 76.0 x 63.1 cm cm (estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Given by E. G. Wheler 1906.
Provenance Samuel Galton, Birmingham banker and member of the Lunar Society; by descent to his second son Herbert Galton, 1832; Miss Mary Barclay Galton, daughter of Herbert Galton; E. G. Wheler (representative of the Galton family).
Principal Exhibitions Priestley Exhibition, Leeds City Art Gallery, 1974; Joseph Priestley in Birmingham, Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery, 1980, cat. no. 7.
Publications Hultmark, Carl Fredrik von Breda, Stockholm, 1915, pp. 80, 136, no. 76; Minchinton, W., Scandinavian Art in England 1768 - 1838, Lofthouse Publications, Pontefract, 1989, p. 81; Foreign Paintings in Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, A Summary Catalogue, 1983, no. 17, ill.
Notes Inscribed on the back on stretcher 'Breda Pinx. 1793' and 'Mrs Priestley/Wife of Priestley/Known at the Birmingham Riots'. Dr and Mrs Priestley were close friends of Samuel Galton and frequently visited him at Great Barr Hall which he rented between 1784 and 1799. This portrait was certainly not painted in Birmingham as Priestley never returned there after the riots of 1791. Nevertheless, it was probably Breda's Birmingham connections which got him the commission, and it has been suggested that the picture may have been given by Dr Priestley as a present to Mr Galton.
Rights Owner Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
Author Dr Patricia Smyth



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