Jeremy Bentham possessed one of the most outstanding minds of his generation. He was educated at Westminster, Queens College, Oxford and then at Lincolns Inn. However, rather than pursue a career as a barrister he turned his thoughts to politics and jurisprudence - the philosophy of law, which occupied him throughout his life. His most celebrated work entitled 'Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation', in which he outlined his principle of Utility - the cornerstone of his political philosophy, was published in 1789. He continued to publish throughout his life on subjects as diverse as public education, usury, penal reform, the disadvantages of colonialism, the Church of England and taxation. His ideas, particularly with regard to the treatment of criminals, lay at the foundation of many subsequent reforms. In his will, he left his body to University College, London (of which he was one of the founders) for disection, and his skeleton, padded out with wax, was for many years on display in the entrance hall of that institution.
The present picture is a very early work by Watts and was commissioned by John Roebuck in 1837. Of the picture the artist wrote '[it] is not from life, but was painted by me, then a mere lad, from a wax figure which was so far curious that it covered, I believe, the philosopher's bones, and was dressed in his clothes' (see M.S. Watts, op. cit, p. 34).
We are grateful to Richard Jefferies for his help in preparing this catalogue entry.