Photo credit: Derby Museums
In 'Britain's Lost Masterpieces it was suggested that this is a copy of a portrait painted by Joseph Wright of Derby of one of his pupils. I suggest the sitter is a much more well-known artist, Peter Perez Burdett, who features as a model in several of Wright's works, including as the man taking notes top left of 'The Orrery' https://bit.ly/2Ra31SP. A fine portrait of Burdett (with his wife) in 1765 by Wright is in the National Gallery of the Czech Republic, Prague https://bit.ly/3t3jy8k.
The more finished work, 'Portrait of an Artist' https://bit.ly/3eXsp6z at the National Portrait Gallery, London was downgraded from 'by Joseph Wright' when it was realised it was not a self-portrait. In this case the similarity of the sitter to Burdett is close, although here he is a bit younger and leaner than when Wright used him as a model in 'The Gladiator', https://bit.ly/3eJW030 [scroll down to image] 'The Orrery' and (less certainly) 'The Air Pump'. https://bit.ly/3xBhvM8
The Collection has commented: 'Many thanks for your observations on this picture. Your thoughts regarding the status of the painting as an oil sketch are interesting, as are your comparisons of the facial features of the sitter to those of Wright's friend, Peter Perez Burdett. As you point out, the youthful appearance of the sitter would suggest a much younger Burdett than the one we see in either 'Three Persons Viewing a Gladiator by Candlelight', 'the Orrery', or indeed the Prague portrait of Burdett and his wife. However, to my mind, this presents a problem: the style and handling of the portrait would suggest a much later date in accordance with existing works by Wright. Indeed, his portraiture of the early 1760s shows itself to be very much in debt to the works of his tutor, Thomas Hudson and is quite unlike the relatively looser handling, and simpler compositions, of Wright's later portraiture, including the picture under discussion here.'
The NPG picture linked above, which is clearly another version of the same portrait, is dated c. 1765-1770 and listed as an unknown sitter by an unknown artist. Why is the Derby version called self-portrait after Wright of Derby, implying he is the sitter?
Matthew Craske's newish book, Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Darkness, throws light on Wright's friend, Peter Perez Burdett, and his representation.
On the NPG website (link under Topic for discussion above), the extended catalogue entry for the NPG original reads:
"Evidently a self portrait of 1765-70, previously identified as Wright of Derby. A copy was given to Derby Museum and Art Gallery by W. Wright Bemrose, a direct descendant of Wright of Derby . If the sitter was an artist closely connected with Wright c.1765-70, likely candidates would be Richard Hurlston or William Tate, whose features, let alone their work, remain obscure." Peter Perez Burdett is another candidate.
I can't easily get from the sitter here to the one in the Prague picture. I still think the NPG picture is by Wright! Hopefully it can one day be cleaned.
A new very full biography of Burdett has just been published by Stepen Leach, who does not mention this portrait. Quite rightly in my view as this quite evidently not him, nor is Burdett known as a painter of portraits. Tate's few works are nothing like this. It does not seem to be much like Hurlstone either, Are we able to challenge the assumption that the artist is close to Wright?
Our picture is a late copy of the original in the NPG. So attention should focus on the original as a way of understanding the copy.
The NPG picture was given by William Michael Rossetti in 1858 as a portrait of Joseph Wright of Derby (which it is not on grounds of style and likeness).
Rossetti wrote that the picture had descended from his father-in-law, [Gaetano] Polidori, who had received it from a Signor Deagostini, who had it from a M. Deville ‘who is believed to have been a Hungarian’. Might Deville be the James Deville, early 19c plaster figure maker about whom I have written? Not obvious how this helps.
To my eyes this portrait is very likely to depict an artist but it is less certainly a self-portrait. Given that researchers at and outside the NPG have studied the portrait, I'm not sure whether we will be able to progress the discussion productively.
The NPG original of the Derby portrait under discussion was lent to Derby Art Gallery for exhibition in 1883 as documents on file at the NPG show. William Bemrose was chairman of the Art Gallery committee at the time. It may have been on this occasion that the copy was made.
The following two wills don’t mention works of art but Mr. Polidori’s will mentions William Rossetti and Mr. Deagostini’s will mentions Gaetano Polidori:
“Will of Gaetano Polidori, Gentleman of No 15 Park Village East Regents Park, Middlesex”
Date of probate: 23 January 1854
“Will of John Amedeo Deagostini, Gentleman of Wells Street Oxford Street, Middlesex”
Date of probate: 29 July 1835
If the provenance of the NPG original is any help, I think we can understand it further. Signor Deagostini must be John Amadeo Deagostini who died in 1835 making Gaetano Polidori his executor, as I learn from his will which is in the National Archives (PROB-11-1849-172).
Next stop, M. Deville.
Here’s some information about John Amedeo Deagostini.
Martin Hopkinson has pointed to to the new biography on Peter Perez Burdett (post, 13/04/2023). The author, Dr. Stephen Leach, has been in touch with me. He writes as follows:
"The earliest name in the provenance is that of a Monsieur Deville. This Deville is almost certainly Nicolas-Gabriel Deville, secretary to Louis XVI. His son, an officer in the Swiss guards, left an account of (dramatically) escaping from the French revolutionaries in 1792. This hand-written account passed from Deville to Signor Deagostini to Gaetano Polidori - exactly the same line of descent as the NPG painting. Nicolas-Gabriel (or Nicholas Gabriel) Deville was in England from 1797 to 1802. During this time he added the name O'Keeffe to his surname. Information taken from: Frazer's Magazine (1867) and 'La Journee du 10 Aout' Revue des Deux Mondes 1928 46 (3): 523-56.
As to whether the portrait depicts Burdett or is by Wright, those are different matters. It should however be noted that the NPG portrait is less 'sketchy' than the copy held by Derby Museum."
This discussion asks, inter alia, if the sitter is Peter Perez Burdett. In my view it does not represent Burdett, who had black hair, a dimple in his chin and full cheeks. The NPG portrait differs. Dr Leach accepts this.
Having noticed some likenesses in other materials I have been consulting, I would like to propose that the original NPG picture (https://bit.ly/3eXsp6z) is actually a portrait of a young Henry Fuseli.
I have not yet followed up on whether this makes it more or less likely to be by Wright of Derby and how the dating might correspond to each artist's movements, but I wanted to make my idea known in case others have information that would support it.
I am struck by similarities with the portraits of Fuseli, if one accounts for the sitter at different ages, by:
Thomas Lawrence (engraving by T Holloway from drawing by Lawrence: https://www.alamy.com/henry-fuseli-c18th-centuryartist-t-holloway-image262749362.html)
John Williamson (https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/henry-fuseli-17411825-98969)
George Henry Harlow (https://useum.org/artwork/Henry-Fuseli-George-Henry-Harlow-1817). (See the artist's folder at bottom right - for sure such an item may be a standard attribute in a painting of an artist but it could even be the same cherished item that he has in the NPG painting)
Fuseli was originally from Switzerland and there is mention of Swiss Guards early in the provenance (see thread above). But he was later in Italy and then London If Fuseli was in his 20s in this painting that would date it in the 1760s. His intense gaze was noted in contemporary accounts and is clearly represented in most of the above examples.
The Fuseli drawing that seems to be disputed as to being a self portrait or a portrait of John Cartwright in the NPG (https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/person/mp06583) also has a great stare and could also be interpreted as the older instance of the younger painting.
Comparing portraits is something of a minefield and there may be further examples that are less convincing (for example James Northcote's, cited in Wikipedia and therefore splattered across much of the internet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Fuseli#/media/File:Henry_Fuseli_by_James_Northcote.jpg) but each artist renders their sitters differently.
is the full link that got chopped off at the end of my comment!
I changed my mind about Fuseli after further research but have since taken up the challenge of finding out more about NPG 29 as a serious research project for my Advanced Diploma. No winning leads to the sitter yet but I will pass on a small finding to correct Ingamells' entry in his 'Mid-Georgian Portraits' (and subsequent writers who evidently copied him): I have examined the letter offering the painting from WM Rossetti in the Registered Packet at the NPG archive, and Rossetti states clearly that the painting came from his mother, and to her from her father – it was not from Rossetti’s father-in-law as stated by Ingamells. Not that this helps with the distant provenance or identification of the sitter!
The following seems useful:
The earliest name in the provenance is that of a Monsieur Deville. This Deville is almost certainly Nicolas-Gabriel Deville, secretary to Louis XVI. His son, an officer in the Swiss guards, left an account of (dramatically) escaping from the French revolutionaries in 1792. This hand-written account passed from Deville to Signor Deagostini to Gaetano Polidori - exactly the same line of descent as the NPG painting.
My suspicion is that the sitter might after all be Peter Perez Burdett. The nose is right for Burdett and the dimple on the chin. Burdett spent a lot of time in Paris in his youth.
On the largest digital magnification I thought I could see some numbers (including the number 8) and possibly lettering on one of the papers in the portfolio. But I'm afraid I have only seen the painting on a computer screen.
Lucy Bamford, Senior Curator of Art and the Joseph Wright Collection, says this painting was recently scoured for details, but nothing was found.
Marion: can I ask are you referring to the painting held at Derby, ie the one at the top of this discussion?
Claire: yes, that is correct.
Our sitter has a very funny /odd ear. No lobe etc. It matches the ear of Lord Byron ????
The inscription for this work seems to indicate that the artist was a "Miss Cobens". Is it likely that she was Ellen Gertrude Cohen (1860-1946) of London?
Here is her Wikipedia entry:
Here is one of her works:
The donor was Brigadier-General William Wright Bemrose (1859-1934).