Angelica Kauffmann (Coire 1740-1807 Rome) Portrait of William Heberden the Younger, M.D.(1767-1845)
Lot 15*
Angelica Kauffmann (Coire 1740-1807 Rome) Portrait of William Heberden the Younger, M.D.(1767-1845)
Sold for £57,600 (US$ 96,757) inc. premium
Auction Details
Lot Details
Angelica Kauffmann (Coire 1740-1807 Rome)
Portrait of William Heberden the Younger, M.D.(1767-1845) as a boy, half-length, at his studies, in a white chemise with a red sash, seated beside a table draped with a red cloth
oil on canvas
61.2 x 51.1cm (24 1/8 x 20 1/8in).


    The sitter and thence by direct descent to the present owner.

    The present portrait is typical of a number of portraits that the artist painted during her stay in London between 1766-1781. As the son of a successful physician, William Heberden (1729-1813), the young master Heberden is depicted in a manner appropriate to his social aspirations, in van Dyck costume. Gainsborough's portrait of William's sister, Miss Heberden, is now in the Paul Mellon Collection (Yale Center for British Art). William was educated at the Charterhouse and at Saint John's College, Cambridge, where he became a fellow on graduating in 1788. Heberden studied medicine in London at Saint George's Hospital, Hyde Park Corner, and was elected physician there on 15 November 1793. He was elected fellow of the Royal Society in 1791 and of the Royal College of Physicians in 1796. On 1 October 1795 he married Elizabeth Catherine (1776–1812), daughter and heir of Charles Miller of Oving, Sussex. In the same year he was appointed physician-extraordinary to the Queen. By 1809 he had been appointed physician-in-ordinary to both the Queen and the King.

    George III famously suffered intermittently from an illness involving delusions and violent behaviour, which is now thought to have been porphyria. In 1804 the King was removed from Heberden's care and placed under that of the 'specialist' mad-doctors, John and Richard Willis. Heberden's opposition to their harsh and repressive treatment was in line with the enlightened theories on psychiatry that had been gaining influence since the King's first attack in 1788. In 1810, when the King's illness reappeared, Heberden considered the reintroduction of this coercive regime to be futile and inhumane. In September 1811 he wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury stressing the importance of 'recalling the attention from the distractions of a disordered imagination to objects of reality and truth. It should be studied to soothe, to cherish, to comfort a mind worn by disease and disappointment, to encourage it by indulgence, by amusement, by conversation, by company, by reading, by the exertion of its own faculties. ... But what has in fact been done? ... The King has been kept in a state of unedifying confinement and seclusion ... I cannot be insensible to the kindness and partiality with which his Majesty has honoured me for many years ... I cannot forget that his Majesty had desired me not to leave him, not to desert him; ... he always reposed his trust in me.'

    Heberden's protests, unfortunately, were brushed aside and he and the other physicians found themselves virtually excluded from the sickroom. He was able to see his patient from time to time, but always in the presence of the Willises or one of their associates. After the death of his wife in 1812 he abandoned his London practice, retired to Datchet, a village close to Windsor, and devoted himself to bringing up his family and trying to alleviate the King's distress. In July of the same year he was protesting once more: 'that the present medical treatment and management applied to His Majesty's case are fundamentally and practically wrong.'

    Of his five papers in the Medical Transactions of the Royal College of Physicians the most interesting was 'The mortality of London', in which he was able to demonstrate the gradual improvement in life expectancy over the previous century. He was also the author of a monograph on pediatrics entitled Morborum puerilium Epitome (1804).
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