John Dollond, 1706 -1761

(Updated, February 2023) Half-length portrait of the optical instrument maker John Dollond, FRS, wearing a grey wig and brown jacket, seated at a table covered with a green cloth. On the table in front of him is a book of which the upper block-edge bears the word OPTICKS, with a scientific instrument lying on top of it. Just to the right Dollond's left hand holds another: this is a prismatic device designed to demonstrate the principle of the achromatic lens, which he had patented in 1758. The instrument on top of the book may be a larger version of the same thing and for an example of these see NAV0950.

The painting has a carved gilt frame and is the one exhibited as no. 134, 'Mr Dolland, optician' in 1761, at the Society of Artists, where it was noted as 'kit-kat' size (36 x 28 in.). The canvas is now 36 1/4 x 27 1/2 in., probably owing to later relining, but beyond reasonable doubt the original. It was subsequently engraved by K. Mackenzie (see PAJ3274), possibly shortly after the sitter's death in that year. In the 19th century a rather better print was done for the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge (see PAD2810), when the painting was already at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich. It may be the twelfth and final item on a list of pictures formerly in possession of the fifth Astronomer Royal, Neville Maskelyne, which his wife presented and left with some of his books and manuscripts 'at Flamstead House for the Use of the Royal Observatory, [in] April 1811'. The inventory of which this is part was made on 13 April 1811 in the course of her move elsewhere following her husband's death. It is in the Maskelyne papers held in the Museum (REG09/000037: 10:3-10:22). Unfortunately the list (folio 8) does not give media, so one cannot be entirely sure except that the painting was certainly there when re-engraved in the 1800s, went (c.1946) with the Royal Greenwich Observatory organisation to its subsequent homes at Herstmonceux in Sussex and then Cambridge, and was transferred back to Greenwich when the RGO closed in 1998.

We are grateful to Cliff Thornton for pointing out the likely provenance (February 2020), which was previously unclear. The Royal Society has a 19th-century copy by William Frederick Witherington, presented by George Dollond in 1842. (George - originally Huggins - was John's grandson by his daughter Susan but changed his name to Dollond by licence in 1805, when he became partner with her brother Peter Dollond in the family firm.)

Object Details

ID: ZBA0725
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Wilson, Benjamin
Date made: Mid to late 18th century; circa 1760
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Frame: 1105 mm x 902 mm x 55 mm; Painting: 902 mm x 698 mm

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