Lot 284
  • 284

THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH, R.A. | Portrait of Edward Willes (1723-1787), three-quarter length, wearing Judge's robes and wig

80,000 - 120,000 USD
93,750 USD
bidding is closed


  • Portrait of Edward Willes (1723-1787), three-quarter length, wearing Judge's robes and wig
  • oil on canvas


By descent in the sitter's family to his great grandson George Willes (1841-1927);
His sale, London, Christie's, 26 May 1894, lot 78, for 360 Guineas, to Colnaghi;
Possibly from whom acquired by Colonel George Dudley Smith of Earle's Croome or acquired by his son, Osbert Dudley Smith (b. 1898), at a later date;
Thence by descent until 1979;
By whom sold ("Property of a Lady"), London, Christie's, 23 November 1979, lot 107;
Anonymous sale ("Property of a Gentleman"), London, Sotheby's, 19 November 1986, lot 57;
With Thomas Agnew & Sons, London;
With Richard L. Feigen & Co., New York;
From whom acquired by the present collector.


Birmingham, United Kingdom, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Works of Art from Midland Houses, 18 July - 6 September 1953, no. 29.


D'Anvers, Thomas Gainsborough: A record of his life and works, London 1897, p. 115;
W. Armstrong, Gainsborough and his Place in English Art, London & New York 1898, p. 204;
O. Barron, Northamptonshire Families,London 1906, reproduced p. 348;
E. Waterhouse, "Preliminary Checklist of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough", in Walpole Society, vol. XXXIII, Oxford 1953, p. 113;
E. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London 1958, p. 96, cat. no. 724, reproduced, plate 233.
The Portrait Surveyed: British Portraiture 1670 – 1870, exhibition catalogue, London 1980, p. 4, cat. no. 2.
J. Ingamells, "Current and Forthcoming Exhibitions", in The Burlington Magazine, vol. CXXII, no. 927, London 1980, p. 444.

Catalogue Note

Edward Willes was a barrister, politician, and judge. His father, Sir John Willes (1685-1761), was Chief Justice of Common Pleas and helped launch his son's career. In 1741 he joined the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn, one of the four Inns of Court in London to which barristers of England and Wales belong. By 1747, Willes was already in the House of Commons, sitting first for Old Sarum, and then for Aylesbury until 1754. During this time he supported Frederick, Prince of Wales and opposed the ministry on Henry Pelham. Willes married in 1752 to Anne, daughter of the Reverend Edward Taylor of Sutton, Wiltshire, and together had three sons. In 1756 he was appointed King's Counsel, and then became a justice of the Court of King's Bench from 1768 until his death in 1787. Before becoming a justice, Willes was a member of parliament for Leominster from 1767 to 1768. This portrait, which was made in 1786, just a year before the sitter's death, appears to be listed in his will.1 Several prints were made after this painting well into the 19th century, which attest to its popularity (fig. 1).

1. E. Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London 1958, p. 96, cat. no. 724.