"A portrait is a picture in which there is just a tiny little something not quite right about the mouth." -- John Singer Sargent

Sunday, December 19, 2021

A Gentleman

This painting, identified as Portrait of a Gentleman, c. 1770-1773, by Joseph Wright, (Wright of Derby) hangs in the National  Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. 

Portrait of a Gentleman
oil on canvas. c. 1770-1773
Joseph Wright
British 1734-1797

Very little is known of the sitter.  When William Curzon a descendent of the original owner died in 1916 it was purchased by “Mrs. Claire Marion Cox, London, as Richard, Earl Howe, by John Singleton Copley;” according the NGA record of provenance.  

Wikipedia identifies Howe.
Admiral of the Fleet Richard Howe, 1st Earl Howe, KG (8 March 1726 – 5 August 1799) was a British naval officer. After serving throughout the War of the Austrian Succession, he gained a reputation for his role in amphibious operations against the French coast as part of Britain's policy of naval descents during the Seven Years' War. He also took part, as a naval captain, in the decisive British naval victory at the Battle of Quiberon Bay in November 1759.
The NGA's 1941 Preliminary Catalogue of Paintings and Sculpture describes this as “Richard, Earl Howe by John Singleton Copley.” as does  their 1942 Book of Illustrations.

John Walker's book National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC., 1975 edition, identifies the painter as Joseph Wright of Derby and the subject as Richard, Earl Howe with a question mark.

An April 13, 2020 tweet by @ngadc discusses the subject.
While the dramatic setting and uniform usually signify a military commander in the midst of battle, the unknown subject’s pose is unusually casual. Important men were rarely shown with their arms crossed over their chests since the pose signified casual nonchalance. Is he displaying his calm under pressure? We can’t be sure as little is known about the painting’s history. It’s earliest record dates only to 1916, when it was sold from an aristocratic Derbyshire estate as the likeness of an ancestor “who was a famous admiral.” 
So, in the century between 1916 and 2015, when I took these pictures, the painter has been re-identified and the subject has been de-identified.  

{NiceArt Gallery still considers this Copley's painting of Howe and offers to sell you a handpainted oil copy for $151.97.}


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