Thursday, October 11, 2012

Stuart's Portrait of Priestley at Bowood in North Wiltshire

While in North Wiltshire this last Summer we went to Bowood House. Bowood house is the country estate of the Marquis and Marquess of Lansdowne. It was at Bowood house in 1774 that Joseph Priestley isolated the substance that we now call Oxygen. While there is some controversy as to whom was the first to "discover" oxygen, Priestley has been recognized as a true giant during the British Enlightenment Period.

The portrait on the left here sits over the mantle in the room where Priestley actually performed the experiment.  The portrait was painted by Gilbert Stuart, the famous American painter.  It was after Priestley immigrated to the United States in 1794 that he actually sat for the Stuart portrait.

Gilbert Stuart, a famous American portrait painter painted portraits of many of the American Founding Fathers, including the famous portrait of George Washington that hangs in the White House. Please look at my earlier post on the Stuart portrait of Priestley at the National Gallery.

Priestley was employed by the Second Earl of Lansdowne to tutor his son and as his companion. It was in 1782 that the Earl was made Prime Minister of England and given the title of Marquis.  While Priestley was known for his radical activist views, including calling for the independence of the British colonies in America, it was ironic that it was the Marquis who signed the Peace Treaty with the fledgeling United States to end the war of Independence on behalf of the British.

Bowood is also know for another famous scientific discovery by Dr. Jan Ingen Housz, who in the 1790's discovered photosynthesis there. 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. For another person's experience on going to Bowood House and seeing the place where Priestley discovered oxygen see this site:

  3. Also, for a more complete discription of Priestley's activities while he was at Bowood House I encourage you to look at Beale's book. More info here: