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Dr John Wolcot

Portrait of Dr Messenger Monsey (1693-1788), physician to Chelsea Hospital


Museum number: P101

Curatorial note

The subject of this pastel portrait, painted by the satirist and poet Dr John Wolcot (alias 'Peter Pindar'), is the celebrated personality and notable eccentric Dr. Messenger Monsey (1693-1788). Monsey graduated in medicine from Cambridge and became a physician in Bury St Edmunds. After successfully treating the 2nd Earl of Godolphin when he was taken ill with apoplexy on the way to Newmarket, Monsey was manoeuvred by his grateful patient into the position of Physician at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, a post which he held from 1742 until his death (at 94) in 1788. Monsey was a great wit and was popular in political and literary circles of the time. He counted among his friends Sir Robert Walpole, Elizabeth Montagu and, for a time, David Garrick. In his will he famously bequeathed an old velvet coat to one friend whilst the buttons went to another.

After his appointment as Clerk of Works at Chelsea Hospital in 1807 John Soane would no doubt have heard recollections of the curious Dr. Monsey. This portrait was given to Soane in 1832 by John Taylor, Editor of The Sun newspaper. It now hangs in the recess behind the south planes in the Picture Room and can only be seen at intervals when the planes are opened.

The artist, John Wolcot (1738-1819), was also a medical man, a doctor who was Surgeon-General in Jamaica before practising in Truro. His comic verse, published under the pseudonym ‘Peter Pindar’, poking fun at the foibles of the royal family and the court became well known in the 1780s.

If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk