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oil painting

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Description

    Portrait of Rev Dr Thomas Birch (1705-66), H.L., body turned slightly to l., eyes looking full, wearing gown and bands and white wig. Oil painting on canvas

  • Producer name

  • Date

    • 1735
  • Materials

  • Dimensions

    • Height: 76.1 centimetres
    • Width: 63.1 centimetres
  • Curator's comments

    The historian and biographer Dr Birch was a friend of Sir Hans Sloane and one of the Trustees of Sloane's will. He was also, in 1753, one of the first elected Trustees of the BM. An energetic Trustee, who acted as Museum Secretary when required, he left many valuable manuscripts to the Museum, for the most part dealing with English history and biography, together with a considerable number of printed books on the same subject and personal papers. His manuscript memoir of Sloane, now in the British Library, provides considerable detail of Sloane's life, much probably acquired direct from Sloane himself.

    The portrait is referred to in the List of Paintings.... (1842, 1879) as being in the 2nd compartment of the Eastern Zoological Gallery and is described as 'Rev. Dr Thos. Birch, painted in 1735. Bequeathed by himself). Two portraits of Dr Birch are mentioned in the 1841 list (Nos. 26 and 46). No. 46 was transferred to the National Portrait Gallery in 1879.

    The portrait is described in an article in The Times, 27 January 1838 by a writer who is not always accurate: '25. Rev. Dr T Birch. This gentleman was an historian and biographer of the 18th century; he was born a Quaker but took orders in 1705. He wrote a critical and biographical dictionary in the style of Bayle, and was killed by a fall from his horse at Hampstead in January, 1765. He left a large collection of manuscripts ot the British Museum, and although a dull writer may be called a pioneer of literature. Johnson says of him "Tom Birch is as brisk as a bee in conversation, but dull as a torpedo when he has a pen in his hand". The picture is by Brown, and is a likeness.'


  • Bibliography

    • List of Portraits suspended on the Walls of the Eastern Zoological Gallery 27 (No. 26 in 1842) bibliographic details
  • Location

    On loan to the British Library (Conservation)

  • Exhibition history

    Eastern Zoological Gallery (1842, 1879)
    Dept of Manuscripts, Students Room
    British Library Boardroom

  • Condition

    Examined 2.iv.63. In reasonably sound condition. Surface cleaning required (?).

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Acquisition notes

    Extract from Birch's will (Minutes of the General Meeting gm 559 25 Jan. 1766) '...I give and bequeath to the said Trustees of the British Museum, the Pictures of Sir Nicholas Bacon Lord Keeper, and Hugh Broughton; with my own painted in 1735, now at the head of my first staircase in my House in Norfolk Street, and all other pictures and prints which shall be in my possession at my death, except those as shall be otherwise disposed of by this my will.' (Executor Dr Maty).

  • Department

    Prints & Drawings

  • Registration number



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Object reference number: PIC134172

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