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Paintings: G0067

Title

William Betty

Technique

Oil on canvas

Subject

Character

Young Norval : Douglas; or The Noble Shepherd

Artist

Dimensions

Height: 204.4cm
Width: 129.5cm
height (frame): 220cm
width (frame): 144cm

Provenance

Thomas Harris; Harris sale, Robins 12 July 1819 (30) "Betty, the Young Roscius, as Norval, original, Northcote"; Charles Mathews

Other number

Mathews 77
RW/CKA 431

Exhibition history

1833 London, Queen's Bazaar, Oxford Street, "Mr Mathews's Gallery of Theatrical Portraits" (77)

Related works

NPG 1392, oil on canvas 198.1x149 (bequeathed by the sitter's son, 1905; probably the version shown at the R.A. and the version from which the engraving was done

Engraving history

James Heath pub. W.H. Betty &c. 1807, line 50.8x33 Kennerley, stipple (h. l.)

Literature

Patmore, pp.257-58

Mathews chose for his citation, in Act II, scene 1, the most famous speech in one of the most popular plays of the 18th century: "My name is Norval; / on the Grampian hills / My father feeds his flocks; a frugal swain, / Whose constant cares were to increase his store, / And keep his only son, myself, at home". The young man has just saved the life of Lord Randolph who is married to Norval's real mother, Lady Randolph. She has not seen her son since the day of his birth. Master Betty, holding a spear in his right hand, strides over the Scottish moors in sandals, a green kilt, silver body armour edged in gold, and a wind-swept blue cloak.
In some ways, Master Betty, the 14-year-old prodigy, was a particularly apt choice for Young Norval. His pubescent looks matched the description given by Glenalvon, the villain of the play, in Act III: "Norval, I'm told, has that alluring look, / 'Twixt man and woman, which I have observ'd / To charm the nicer and fantastic dames, / Who are, like Lady Randolph, full of virtue".
Home's tragedy was first played in Edinburgh on 14 December 1756, and received its first London performance at Covent Garden on 14 March 1757, when Spranger Barry played Douglas or Young Norval. Master Betty's first London appearance in the role was at Covent Garden on 4 December 1804, and he acted it for his d├ębut at Drury Lane on 10 December 1804. The NPG picture was probably the original version, commissioned by Thomas Parker, of Browsholme Hall in Lancashire, who also commissioned the Northcote full-length portrait of Master Betty as Hamlet, now at Stratford-upon-Avon.
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