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Portrait of Francesco Zuccarelli
Tate, London 2014
Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
Portrait of Francesco Zuccarelli
Oil on canvas
49.5 x 41.9 cm
19 1/2 x 16 1/2 in.
London 1925 (19 - Venetian Gentleman); Machynlleth 1937 (2); London, Royal Academy, 1960 Italian Art and Britain (158); London, Cardiff and New Haven, 1982-83 (59); Tercentenary 2014 (45)
With P.E. Rossi, Bury Street, London; purchased by the National Gallery, 1923
Signed and dated right: R. Wilson f / 1751
The sitter was identified as Zuccarelli by Michael Levey in 1959. In a letter to Admiral Smith written in Venice on 8 June 1751, Wilson proudly referred to his meeting with Francesco Zuccarelli, one of Europe's best-known rococo landscape artists: '...what tells better for my own private satisfaction is that Sigr Zuccarelli a famous Painter of this place made me Offer of his painting me a picture for a portrait of himself which I am doing with great pleasure', letter sold Sotheby's, 12 December 1978 (78). Zuccarelli's landscape given to Wilson in exchange is P35 Italian River Scene with Figures, Victoria and Albert Museum. He is known to have played a major role in persuading Wilson to change from portraiture to landsape painting. In later life Zuccarelli came to Britain where he was successful as a landscapist and a Founder Member of the Royal Academy. His rococo style of painting was seen by many contemporaries as more approachable than Wilson's seemingly rigid, classical manner.
Combining a highly individualised likeness with a graceful sense of informality, the portrait depends heavily on contemporary Venetian models and above all on Rosalba Carriera's celebrated pastel portraits. While the treatment of the neck-cloth and waistcoat resembles handling in earlier portraits such as P23 Portrait of a British Naval Captain, Castle Hill Collection, the softer and more luminous treatment of the head is surely the result of Wilson's modification of his earlier methods through the influence of Venetian painting. The left profile is ambiguous, with a rounder jaw showing in the underpaint
Letter 1751; WGC, pp. 24, 62, 118, 155-56, pl. 9b as A Venetian Gentleman; M. Levey, 'Wilson and Zuccarelli at Venice', Burlington Magazine, vol. 101, April 1959, pp. 139-143, fig. 26; Sutton & Clements 1968, vol. 2, p. 3, fig. 3; sale cat., The Lyttelton Papers, Sotheby's London, 12 December 1978, p.101 (cat. 79); Solkin, 1982, p. 177; Apollo, June 1953; Wilson and Europe 2014, p.238
On the back of an old photograph belonging to the Tate is the stamp of a Genoese photographer, indicating an Italian provenance. The only other portraits Wilson is known to have painted in Venice are one for the German Ambassador and Mr Sackville 'which he is to send to my lord Middlesex'. The signature has been doubted on account of the short s. However, there are examples of this in drawings made both before and after 1751.
Dimensions of frame: 62.4 x 55.4 cm (24 9/16 x 21 13/16 in.) Kate Lowry has noted: Red ground. Left profile may have been strengthened later. Pentiment on left side of coat opening shows orange paint beneath.