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Private Collection, England / Photograph Courtesy of Sotheby's
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Richard Wilson (1713/14-1782)
1736/1740 (undated)
Oil on canvas
Metric: 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Imperial: 30 x 25 in.
Private Collection, England
Wilson Online Reference
The sitter is shown half-length, in a powdered wig and wearing a light grey coat. He is seated with a brush in one hand and his palette with four brushes in the other, poised in the act of painting. The palette is seen from below - a rare view in self-portraiture. Some of the colours on the outer edge, however, can be discerned.
?Wrexham 1876 (409 - Himself; lent by Col. Brian Davies-Cooke, Gwysaney); London, Sabin Galleries Ltd, 4 Cork Street, London W1X 1PA, English Portraits: Tudor to Georgian, 25 October-19 November 1976 (7)
Perhaps Col. Philip Brian Davies-Cooke, Owstan Hall, 1870s; Richard Imrie, Herne Hill; Christie's 26 January 1968 (109 - Portrait of Ramsay); with Sabin Galleries Ltd, 4 Cork Street, London W1X 1PA, 1976; Sotheby's London, 7 December 2017 (201), where bt by present owner.
Unsigned; no inscription
Printed label on horizontal member of stretcher: Doig, McKechnie, & Davies | Carvers, Gilders & Picture Liners | 69 GEORGE STREET, | EDINBURGH
Related Paintings
P2 Ascribed to Wilson, Portrait of the Revd Hugh Jones, present location unknown
P4 Portrait of John Jones of Pentre Mawr, Abergele, Private Collection, Wales
P7 Portrait of Robert Wynne of Garthewin, Private Collection
P216 Portrait of Miss Catherine Jones of Colomendy, The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth
Critical commentary
From 1735 Wilson is recorded as painting portraits independently in London and it is during this period following his departure from Thomas Wright's studio that he is likely to have painted this, his first and only known authentic self-portrait. Other portraits from the early years of his career are P2 Ascribed to Wilson, Portrait of the Revd Hugh Jones, recorded as inscribed with the date 1734 and P216 Portrait of Miss Catherine Jones of Colomendy, datable to around 1735. P6 however is compositionally closer to P4 Portrait of John Jones of Pentre Mawr, Abergele, probably dated 1738, and P7 Portrait of Robert Wynne of Garthewin, dated verso 1741. In 1735 Wilson would have been around 21 years of age and in 1740 about 26. Portraits of him are extremely rare, and the only secure individual one hitherto documented is NWP1 by Anton Raphael Mengs, painted in 1752 in Rome, when Wilson was about 38. The face in that shows affinities with this more recently discovered earlier work and the manner in which the sitter holds his brushes and palette is close to the Mengs portrait (in reverse), though viewed from a different angle. One self-portrait is recorded as having been in the collection of Colonel Brian Davies-Cooke who exhibited it at Wrexham in 1876; its location since is unrecorded. The Davies-Cooke family of Owstan Hall had a house near Colomendy, Flintshire, where Wilson died at the home of his cousin Catherine Jones. They were at one time also in possession of the early portrait of her by Wilson (P216). However, it is not yet possible to be sure that P6 is the Davies-Cooke self-portrait.
Cooper 1948 1, p. 115; Wilson and Europe 2014, p. 332, fig. 163
More Information
Henry Doig, carver and gilder at 6 South St James's Street, Edinburgh, joined with McKechnie & Davies, 69 George St and 10 Calton Hill, to form Doig, McKechnie & Davies, listed as carvers, gilders and picture liners in 1857. The firm cleaned and restored 31 portraits of continental kings, princes and leaders, in the Lothian collection in 1882. (National Archives of Scotland, GD40/8/459, Lothian Muniments, extracted from the National Portrait Gallery Index of British Picture Frame Makers 1600-1950).
Kate Lowry has noted: Support: Simple weave linen canvas, original turnovers removed at time of lining. Relined with glue-paste adhesive onto a slightly tighter simple weave linen canvas. Attached to stretcher with tacks through lining turnover. Five-member pine stretcher is not original and dates from relining. It has square mortice joints and provision for keying out. All keys present. A label on the stretcher reverse suggests the work was originally lined by an Edinburgh firm, Doig, McKechnie and Davies, in the latter part of the 19th century. The present lining is in good condition, adhesion between original and lining canvases is good; attachment to stretcher is good and the support quite flat. Ground: A pale grey ground is visible in the face where left exposed to form a mid tone around the mouth and upper lip. It is also visible at the lower and upper right hand side of the painting where the background paint is thin. It is a smooth even preparation. Paint Film: The paint is generally applied quite opaquely. There is some thinness in the curls of the sitter's wig and white cuffs and in the right hand part of the background but this may be a result of over-cleaning in the past. The top edge of the sitter's face is quite sharply outlined against his wig but this and the tendency to leave the grey ground tone as a shadow around the mouth and nose are quite typical of Wilson's portrait style. The simple but effective way of indicating the fall of light on the fold of the sitter's waistcoat, its braid and the buttons of the coat is also typical. The sitter's ear is notable by its absence and the underlying impasto suggests it may have been painted out by the artist. The dark red shadows in the nostrils and around the mouth are uncharacteristic and appear to be later retouches added to emphasise these features. The chair back is reminiscent of that in P32 Portrait of Sir Edward Lloyd. Nice details are the array of the artist's colours along the perimeter of the palette, the brush handle, cut possibly for sgraffito work, and the shadow of the palette falling on the sitter's left hand. Surface Film: When examined under UV a general, thin coating of resin varnish applied overall in vertical brushstrokes can be seen and this most likely dates from a recent cleaning treatment. There are some minor retouches to the mouth and nose, to a horizontal vection crack associated with the original stretcher about 35 mm from the upper edge, to the pentiment above the knuckles of the sitter's right hand and to the outline of the sitter's proper left shoulder. There are also two minor damages filled and retouched in the upper right corner and centre left area of the background. The general condition is very good. Other observations: The sitter is right-handed and has blue eyes, which tallies with NWP1. There is no reason stylistically and technically for not accepting this as an early painting by Wilson. It is hard to think of anyone else who was painting like this at that time.
Updated by Compiler
2020-10-26 00:00:00