William Drummond was a portrait painter of much demand in the first half of the 19th century. Working primarily as a watercolourist and draughtsman, Drummond fulfilled a burgeoning need amongst the middle and upper classes to have one’s likeness depicted as a symbol of one’s power and prestige.
Whilst the details of Drummond’s life are so unfortunately lost to time, the works he produced that remain tell us much about his skill and style, and the world in which he worked. Booms in industry were growing a larger middle class made rich from reaping plentiful rewards. Long had there been in Britain a tradition of portraiture as a symbol of one’s status, although it had remained largely the privilege of royalty and the upper classes. With burgeoning wealth amongst the middle class, however, more and more people were employing painters to depict their likeness. Painters like Drummond.
His figures are very often ladies and gentlemen dressed in fashionable dress, the light touch of his brush adding shade to the folds of fine fabric, the delicate line of his pencil draping chiffon and gossamer. Their comportment is graceful, the height of civility in their time. Their expressions are the epitome of refined grace. They are not bursting from their breeches with pride, even as these paintings were a sign of their growing wealth and status. There is also evidence to suggest that Drummond weaved symbolism into his work. A portrait of a gentleman shows the sitter standing in a relaxed position in front of rolling lands of verdant beauty. This might be, it is thought, a nod to this man’s position as part of the landed gentry and owner of many acres of land.
Developments in mass publication, too, were growing a need for figures of note to be depicted and then printed for large audiences. Drummond portrayed people such as William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), Louisa Cranston Nisbett (1812-1858), and Queen Victoria (1819-1901). These works would then be reproduced in lithograph and printed by prominent companies such as Day & Hague, suggesting Drummond held a place of demand and respect amongst publishers.
Drummond acted as a translator of wealth and power, importance and prestige, in the society of the early 19th century. Whilst the details of his life remain unclear, his portraits are coherent, clear indicators of his status as an artist. Indeed, records show that whilst he was commercially viable, he also exhibited on a number of occasions at the Royal Academy, the British Institute, and at the Suffolk Street galleries. Drummond is very much a part of the large tapestry of British art.