Thomas Hudson, John Heywood in Academical Dress

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All rights reserved)


Country House
John Heywood in Academical Dress
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Overall height: 137 cm, Overall width: 99 cm
Thomas Hudson (1701-1779)
Catalogue Number


John Heywood (1735–1822) was the son of a wealthy London linen-draper, James Heywood (1687–1776) and Ann Sperling. Their eldest daughter, Anne, was the wife of Thomas Hawkins (TN22).1 In the present portrait by Hudson, Heywood is depicted in his academic gown as a member of Trinity College, Cambridge. Heywood was admitted a Fellow Commoner of Trinity College aged twenty on 1 July 1758, listed as the son of James Heywood of London. He received his BA in 1762 and MA in 1765. The circumstances surrounding the commissioning of the portrait are revealed for the first time here in a manuscript transcription of a series of letters, in the library at Trewithen, written by James Heywood at the time the portrait was commissioned.2 Collectively, these letters provide the most detailed first-hand account we have of the commissioning of a portrait by Hudson, who was at that time reaching the end of his professional career in the metropolis.

As the letters indicate, in preparation for university, James Heywood had in 1755 engaged as his son’s tutor, Mark Hiddesley (1698–1772), Bishop of Sodor and Man. During the time they spent together, the bishop took the young Heywood on a tour of the country, including visits to Durham, York and the Isle of Man. As James Heywood informed Christopher Hawkins on 22 July 1758: ‘My son is a very sober solid youth, and has applied his time well under the tuition of the worthy Bishop whose residence during his stay in London is at my house’. As a means of being thanked for tutoring Heywood’s son, Bishop Hiddesley intimated that he would accept his portrait. Accordingly, as Heywood recalled, ‘I employed Mr Hudson a famous Painter in Queen Street near Lincolns Inn Fields, to take it’.3 Over the summer of 1758 Heywood visited Cambridge with his son, John, his daughter and the bishop, during which time John’s university gown and surplice were made.4 On 4 October 1758, Heywood told the bishop that John was to leave London for Cambridge on the 10th of that month. He also noted: ‘My son has sat once to have his picture taken by Mr Hudson. At his return to London in December it will be finish’d. I propose to have him taken in his University habit, and shall desire you would give it a place in Bishops Court, as a testimony of all our grateful thanks for your paternal care of him’. Bishopscourt House, on the Isle of Man, was the official residence of the Bishop of Sodor and Man.

On 20 November 1758, in preparation for further sittings for the portrait, Heywood reported of his son to Bishop Hiddesley, ‘By Mr Hudson the painters desire I have told him to bring up his gown and cap’. He also requested him to invite his tutor at Cambridge to spend Christmas with them. A few months later, on 7 January 1759, Heywood told Bishop Hiddesley that the previous day he had visited Hudson with his son ‘to sit the 2nd time for his picture, and before his return he will visit him again for the last time’. He added proudly, ‘I think he has taken a great likeness of him. Mr Hudson painted Sir Isaac Newton & Mr Ray’s in Trinity College Cambridge’. Hudson’s full-length posthumous portrait of Newton (fig. 1) and of John Ray, which presumably Heywood had seen there, remain at Trinity College. Indeed, it may have been the presence at Trinity of Hudson’s portrait of Newton that prompted Heywood to employ him to paint his own son’s portrait.

undated. Oil on canvas, 210.8 × 132 cm. Trinity College, Cambridge.

Figure 1.
Thomas Hudson, Sir Isaac Newton, undated. Oil on canvas, 210.8 × 132 cm. Trinity College, Cambridge.

Digital image courtesy of The Masters and Fellows of Trinity College Cambridge. (All rights reserved)

Although the portrait had evidently been completed, Heywood reported to his son on 10 April 1759 that he had not yet taken ownership. However, in a conversation with Hudson’s servant, he heard that ‘one Mr Gray called with some ladies of quality and told him who it was taken for & that he knew you’. ‘Mr Gray’, as it transpired, was probably John Gray, eleventh Lord Gray. Less than a week later, on 16 April, James Heywood wrote to Bishop Hiddesley: ‘This day I sent my sons picture in a wooden case by the Liverpool wagon directed to your Lordship. All our friends think it very like. Hudson the painter told me that Lord Gray came to see the pictures & the moment he stepp’d into the room, he knew my son’s picture & pronounced it very like . . . The picture is well secured in a case, so that I hope it will arrive in good condition. You will do him very great honour in giving his shadow a place in Bishops Court’. By the end of June Heywood had learnt from the bishop that the picture had arrived safely at Bishopscourt House. ‘You have done it a great honour to place it so near your valued friend the Master of the Rolls’.5 The ‘Master’ was Sir Thomas Clarke, himself a fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. The portrait in question may relate to the three-quarter length of Clarke by an unidentified artist, presently belonging to Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust (fig. 2).

1738. Oil on canvas, 125 × 99 cm. Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, London.

Figure 2.
Anonymous, Sir Thomas Clarke, 1738. Oil on canvas, 125 × 99 cm. Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, London.

Digital image courtesy of Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust, London. (Public domain)

The portrait is recorded as hanging in the Dining Room at Trewithen in 1828. It was presumably returned to Heywood following the death of Bishop Hiddesley in 1772. The inventory of March 1928, when it still hung in the Dining Room, states, ‘Portrait of a gentleman, XVIII Century, Fellow Commoner of Trinity College, Cambridge (Thomas Heywood) three-quarter length standing with right hand on hip and left resting on chair, wearing mole brown long vested coat and black and lace gown, 54in by 38in’.


by Martin Postle


  1. John Heywood’s death is recorded in The New Monthly Magazine and Literary Journal, vol. 6, 1 April 1822, p. 183: ‘John Heywood, Esq. formerly of Austin-friars’.

  2. The correspondence in the volume is entitled ‘Extracts from Letters written by James Heywood Esq to his correspondents’ and spans 1752 to 1759.

  3. James Heywood to Thomas Hawkins, 3 March 1759, ‘Extracts’.

  4. James Heywood to Thomas Hawkins, 2 December 1758, ibid.

  5. James Heywood to the Bishop of Sodor and Man, ‘Ultimo Junii’ 1759, ibid.


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