Dress and Textiles, London: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 18th C 45 Is this a portrait of George Frideric Handel?

Three-Quarter Length Portrait of a Seated Gentleman Wearing a Wig and Brown Coat*
Topic: Subject or sitter

This portrait is listed as Handel in:

J. M. Coopersmith, ‘A List of Portraits, Sculptures, etc. of Georg Friedrich Händel’ in ‘Music & Letters’, Vol. 13, No. 2 (April 1932), pp.156–167 as No. 2 under paintings ‘Anon. Trinity College London’.

William Smith, ‘A Handel Iconography’. Unpublished Ms in the Gerald Coke Handel Collection at the Foundling Museum, as no.111. Smith describes it as ‘Not like any other portrait’ and gives a reference to Coopersmith.

Philip H. Highfill, Jr., Kalman A. Burnim, and Edward A. Langhans, ‘A biographical dictionary of actors, actresses, musicians, dancers, managers & other stage personnel in London, 1660–1800’, Vol 7: Habgood to Houbert, Carbondale, 1982. Entry Handel, p.93 as No. 78 ‘By unknown artist. At Trinity College of Music, London.’

This painting is very similar to a miniature of Handel in the Royal Collection Trust by Georg Andreas Wolffgang, c.1737, watercolour on ivory, 16.8 x 13.2 cm. RCIN 420815.
https://www.rct.uk/collection/search#/3/collection/420815/george-friedrich-handel-1685-1759

Were they made around the same time, in the late 1730s rather than c.1730?

Thomas Hudson painted Handel twice: in 1748 (now in Hamburg) and in 1756 (NPG).

Julia Semmer, Entry reviewed by Art UK

45 comments

Elana Messner,

I would like to opine that the NPG 1756 portrait by Hudson is not anywhere near the quality of Hudson's work, which they also note in their catalog entry. I have serious questions about its Hudson attribution.

Jacinto Regalado,

Can we get a closer view of the lower left where the papers are? If any kind of musical notation is on them, that would settle the matter. The face could certainly be that of Handel.

Julia Semmer,

The papers on the table seem to be blank, but the portrait comes in a frame with musical ornaments which indicates a musical portrait at time framed. I've included a photograph.

Jacinto Regalado,

It is quite plausible as a Handel portrait, and if that is already an established identification, it seems reasonable to let it stand. I suppose it could conceivably be someone else, but the odds favor that it is Handel.

When the Heinz Archive and Library reopens at the NPG, I hope to research the portrait which is the subject of this discussion. I seem to remember from mounting the Handel tercentenary exhibition at the NPG in 1985 that the identification as Handel depends on likeness rather than documentation. If so there will be little more to say than the identification is possible but not certain. There is a new book in German on Handel's portraits which I have yet to see.

Julia Semmer,

Thank you so much! This is greatly appreciated.
The new publication is by Hans Joachim Marx "By Heaven Inspired. Die Bildnisse von Georg Friedrich Händel" Laaber Verlag, Hamburg. Publication date 1 March 2021. I think the author includes the portrait and relates it to the the Handel portrait by Hudson, 1748/49, which is now in Hamburg. However, as you are saying, all on likeness, documentation hard to find.

Osmund Bullock,

I very much doubt this is Handel. We have the musical spandrels on the frame, yes - but though of uncertain date, it's of a neoclassical design that's certainly much later than the portrait.

The key may indeed be the paper(s) being indicated by the sitter; and even at this low-res level, a bit of electronic tweaking reveals lines that suggest to me we are looking at maps or plans, not music. See attached.

Of course it may just be (as it often is) a pixellation mirage. Jacinto asked over 18 months ago if we could get a closer look at the lower left area, and I would belatedly like to second that, with feeling. Any chance, Marion/David?

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Julia Semmer,

Thank you!
To me it looks as if the papers are blank.

Osmund Bullock,

Thanks very much, Marion. Yes, little to see...though oddly when again tweaked (attached), there are still signs of mysterious lines and squiggles. Probably just a misleading electronic effect, but a very close look in the flesh under strong light (when and if possible) might settle it.

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Jacinto Regalado,

The acquisition method is listed as unknown, but presumably this picture came into the collection under the assumption that it depicted Handel. That may be debatable, but it is not out of the question, and I would say it is tolerably plausible. If it is Handel, the date is better given as c. 1730s or even c. 1740. The title could be "Portrait of a Gentleman (possibly G. F. Handel). Compare to this Handel portrait by Balthasar Denner:

https://bit.ly/3aQsI1X

Julia Semmer,

Yes, according to Trinity Laban the portrait entered the collection as a gift and has always been referred to as Handel. In terms of likeness, I find the Wolfgang miniature of Handel in the Royal Collection dated 1737 a very good match. Our Seated Gentleman is displayed on a grand staircase, very difficult to get a close look. See picture attached.

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I am confident that we are not going to be able to take this further. Neither my predecessor at the National Portrait Gallery, John Kerslake in his ‘Early Georgian Portraits’, nor myself in the Handel tercentenary exhibition catalogue, thought that this portrait stood up to scrutiny as representing the composer. From the very full coat cuffs, folded back to the elbow, the wig with the lengthy extension hanging down and ending in a knot, and the decorative table, the portrait very likely dates to the 1730s. Were this a portrait of the composer, one would have expected the papers on the table to bear some sort of musical annotation. Unfortunately they do not. Also, there is nothing in the background, unlike the miniature in the royal collection dated 1737, to suggest that the subject of the portrait has a musical background.

The earliest link we have is the picture frame, dating to about 1780, which is attached to Julia Semmer’s post of 16 August 2019. But all this tells one is that a collector of the period thought that it represented the composer. It is not that the portrait absolutely cannot represent Handel. Rather it is a matter of recognizing that it is not likely and will remain unproven. There will be at least one old photograph in the NPG Heinz archive and library encapsulating these doubts.

Thomas Ardill, Curator,

I am happy to propose that this discussion now be closed as no new evidence has come to light to confirm the identity of the sitter. The title can stay the same.

Mark Wilson,

Actually I don't think the discussion should be closed, because the brilliant comparison that Jacinto suggests throws it open again. I think it's rather more than "quite similar", it looks very much like one picture is derived from the other. Whole sections are painted more or less identically. Look at the the right sleeve and arm for example, the line of the pocket flap (indeed the whole coat) or the way the papers are laid out

There are some minor differences on the left hand side of the body with the hand resting on the thigh rather than the now-absent chair arm (though the sleeve isn't altered) and the face of the table support is turned the other way. Possibly these are adaptations to the oval shape.

Of course the faces are different, though of a very similar shape and aspect. The oval one certainly does look like how Handel in the 1730s would have looked, (see also the RCT miniature mentioned in the the introduction) so I suppose it's possible that a head and wig were painted and the remainder mostly copied from the Warrington picture.

When and by whom this was done are other topics, but the link between the two pictures may be worth exploring.

The similarities in details noted above by Mark makes the comparison of our portrait with that by Winstanley identified by Jacinto (10 July) certainly of interest. It firms up a date of around 1737 for our portrait. But I don’t believe that our portrait is by Winstanley because the handling is so different. It may be that our portrait is a copy of one by Winstanley or that they both share a common root.

Whatever the case, it does not alter the judgment there is not enough evidence to identify our portrait as one of Handel with any degree of confidence (my post, 25 February).

Happy to leave this open for a little while longer to see if the connection with the Hamlet Winstanley portrait of Thomas Patten raises any further evidence of the sitter.

Jacinto Regalado,

Our picture would seem to be derived from that by Winstanley, though presumably painted by someone else. It is looser or sketchier and less finished than the Winstanley, but the similarity does seem too much to be coincidence.

Jacinto Regalado,

However, some pictures by Winstanley on Art UK are not as tight or as finished as the Warrington picture in question, and perhaps our picture would look sharper if it were cleaned. Thus, it is conceivable that this might be a picture of a different sitter by Winstanley using the same formula he used to portray Thomas Patten.

Jacinto Regalado,

Perhaps "manner of Hamlet Winstanley" would be appropriate.

If we are trying to identify an artist for our portrait based on its similarities to that of Thomas Patten, this raises questions about the reason for attributing the Patten portrait to Winstanley in the first place. If the portrait of Patten is indeed dated 1737 as in Art UK, then it would appear to be posthumous if Patten did indeed die in 1736. Intriguing.

Question for Art UK, please: Does your largest file image of the Patten portrait reveal a signature and date?

A further thought. Winstanley was based in Lancashire. If we connect our portrait with Winstanley, it makes it all the more unlikely that it has anything to do with Handel.

Jacob, I've attached an image from our TIFF of the Patten portrait. The bottom left and right corners are too dark to see anything.

I don't know whether the mark on the leaflet that's on top of the book is of interest. It's dated on the folded paper under his right hand, recorded on Art UK as 1737, but looks to me more like 1738.

I'm away from my desk for the next hour or so, but working later if you need further images.

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Many thanks. I agree that the date on the letter is 1738. A bit of a puzzle in view of the date given for Patten's death. Since this is not the picture that is the subject of the discussion, I'm cautious as to how far to dig. One has to assume that the collection ascertained that the coat of arms in the picture belongs to the Patten family.

In fact the identification as Thomas Patten is not the real issue, which is the identity of the artist as Winstanley. I'm going to let this one run for a bit.

Mark Wilson,

When I first looked at this I assumed that the Warrington portrait would be very well provenanced being a picture by a local artist of a local dignitary who lived in a building that is now the local town hall and where the municipal collection goes back to 1877.

But it is shown as only purchased by the collection in 1973 and the family actually sold Bank Hall (built 1750 and now Warrington Town Hall) to the Council in 1870. This Thomas's great-grandson John Wilson-Pattern then moved to Winmarleigh Hall (and later became Lord Winmarleigh), but his male heirs predeceased him and that house was sold in 1912. There are various female line descendants but ancestral pictures were presumably split up and some went on the market.

It looks to me as if the details of the portrait from Warrington are wrong though I think this Thomas Pattern's dates are actually 1690 - 1772 as per attached extract from Burkes Landed Gentry. At least this solves the problem of it being a posthumous portrait. The heraldry (at least Q1 & 4 as Pattern, these will be John Wilson-Pattern's) seems OK but an expert would need to check if the escutcheon matched his co-heiress wife.

The attribution to Winstanley isn't implausible and he was living in Warrington at the time and must have known the family. A lot of his sitters seem to be in pointing poses as well. But while the sitter is probably correct, attribution may have been based on likelihood.

The real puzzle remains the use of the portrait as a model for most of the Handel portrait (and I think it is certainly meant to be Handel, though whether from the life or not is another matter). Admittedly Pattern was about the same age as Handel (b 1685) and similar build, but you wonder how a painter in a position to paint a head of Handel would have copied the rest from a portrait in Warrington that may never have left there.

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Mark's helpful comments on the coat of arms in the Patten portrait are reassuring.

Looking at our portrait, I suggest that we may need to think again given its link of some sort to the Lancashire painter, Hamlet Winstanley. Could our portrait represent another Lancashire subject?

Reverting to the Patten portrait, the sitter was a leading member of a family with strong industrial and merchant connections in the northwest of England and beyond. Further, the sitter was sufficiently well connected to commission the architect, James Gibbs, to work for him.

Do we need to look more widely for the artist? Perhaps to London? At the moment the argument seems to be that Thomas Patten was a Warrington man. And that Winstanley was in Warrington. Hey presto, Patten must have been painted by Winstanley.

I’m not saying that the portrait cannot be by Winstanley. But I have to admit that it does not fit comfortably with other portraits by this artist. Either it is Winstanley pulling out all the stops for a leading citizen. Or we should be asking whether this portrait was painted when Patten visited London.

Jacinto Regalado,

The Warrington picture is noticeably more accomplished than other portraits by Winstanley on Art UK, both in composition and in execution or technique. It could certainly be the work of a London hand. If it is, that would make imitation or derivation more likely, assuming our picture is by a different hand. However, even if painted in London, the Patten picture would have presumably gone to Warrington, where the imitator would probably have been someone local. Ideally we could find out what the Winstanley attribution is based on for the Patten portrait.

Osmund Bullock,

I can't immediately identify the second & third armorial quarters either - the image is not big enough to see the detail. But as Mark says, 1 & 4 are correct for Patten (not Pattern), and the escutcheon of pretence (the shield in the middle) indicates marriage to an heraldic heiress (one without brothers). Although the tinctures (colours) are not quite right - the chequered pattern should I think be red & white - the ermine saltire over the top confirms these are intended for the arms of the family of Peake, and the full achievement must indeed be for Thomas Patten (1690-1772**) who married the co-heiress Lettice Peake at Warrington in June 1728. The arms may have been inaccurately restored, as often happens - could we see a larger image of them, please?

.**I've confirmed these dates as correct from separate primary sources - he was baptized at Warrington St Elphin 31 July 1690; his death was reported in the Manchester Mercury as having taken place at Warrington on 21st Feb 1772, and his Will was proved on 5th Mar at Chester consistory court.

One minor side note: this Thomas Patten (confusingly the sixth of the same name in direct line, all of Warrington) had an uncle William (1668-1740) who was a merchant in the City, so there is a London connection.

Louis Musgrove,

In the past-when someone built or a nice big house-they used to buy old books by the yard for the new library,and old pictures by the wagonload to fill the walls and create an impression.Perhaps a really good old portrait of Handel-(possibly Hamlet Winstanley) was included and looked good enough to add heraldic stuff to create a pedigree for an ancestor???
Human nature-a possibility???

Mark Wilson,

Actually the Pattens already had a big house in Warrington called Patten Lane:

https://openplaques.org/plaques/40925

They'd been prominent in the town since Tudor times as Osmund points out and claimed descent going back almost to the Conquest. If they wanted books and pictures they would have had them already. And they would be unlikely to want a picture of Handel that was so obviously like one of the current head of the family.

Mark Wilson,

Thanks for your comment of yesterday morning, Osmund: of course I realised I'd misspelled Patten throughout, once I'd posted (we all have to live with no edit facility). My excuse is that I'm waiting for new glasses. I suspected the escutcheon might be related to Peake, so it's great to have that confirmed and means we've got the right Thomas. Lettice died in 1735 according to Burke's and the Warrington portrait was presumably painted in the years just after that.

Having primary confirmation of the dates helps as well as I couldn't see why the collection could get the dates of a well-known local figure wrong. Possibly it was an error inputting to ArtUK.

The London connection wasn't just through his uncle William. This Thomas's paternal aunt Mary married Thomas Wilson, the long-serving Bishop of Sodor and Man and their only surviving child, Thomas (1703-1784) became Rector of St Stephen Walbrook in 1737 - and later of St Margaret's Westminster as well. He had already married to his cousin, William's heiress Mary, and was a great advocate of decoration in churches:

https://ststephenwalbrook.net/history/thomas-wilson/

and so presumably had artistic connections to match his interests. He and Mary had no surviving children and must have remained close to their Warrington Patten cousins because his estate was left to them, which is why later generations become Wilson-Patten.

So this Thomas would certainly have the opportunity and links to have a London portrait painted.

I find it problematic identifying the artist for the portrait of Thomas Patten. With considerable hesitation, I am exploring the idea as to whether it could be the work of Jean Baptiste van Loo (1684-1745), the French subject and portrait painter. In 1737 Van Loo came to England, where his portraits attracted attention. He returned to France in 1742.

Martin Hopkinson,

surely only a copy if the composition is van Loo's. He was a highly accomplished painter

Martin Hopkinson,

No Jacob., sorry I misunderstood you and did not read you carefully enough - I thought that you were discussing the supposed portrait of Handel

Jacinto Regalado,

A problem with van Loo is that his British sitters tended to be of higher social status, as opposed to simply wealthy, though that does not exclude him as a possibility. What does seem relatively clear is that the Patten portrait seems too accomplished for Winstanley.

Jacinto Regalado,

I suppose a new discussion should be opened for the Patten portrait, in order to get suitable input from Warrington.

For my part I’m not suggesting opening a separate discussion around the Patten portrait. Given that, beyond some likeness with other Handel portraits, there is no internal evidence, such as a paper with music or a harpsichord in the portrait at Trinity Laban, the subject of this discussion, there are, as I see it, three ways in which one might make progress:

1. THE ARTIST. If we can identify the artist of the Patten portrait, we will be a step closer to understanding our portrait.

2. THE PROVENANCE. From the picture frame, which dates to about 1780, it is clear that at that time the person ordering the frame thought that the portrait represented a musician, presumably Handel. If we could find this elusive person, again we would be a step closer. But from memory there is no early provenance.

3. PHYSICAL EXAMINATION. The oval format of the portrait is most unusual and almost certainly it was changed from a rectangle at or before the time of the 1780-ish reframing. What does the portrait look like from behind? Is it still a rectangle but hiding beneath the frame? Is it an oval but with the surplus canvas folded back? Or is it an oval with the canvas cut off to fit this format? A photograph of the reverse of the canvas, and of the frame, would enable one to understand the portrait better. Of course this might mean taking the portrait down from the staircase to photograph it, if there is not already a photo on file, but sometimes there is no gain without pain. What does the collection think? If a photo cannot be made available, I will repeat my suggestion to close the discussion.

I am taking the trouble to set this out because the Trinity Laban portrait continues to pop up as a portrait of Handel.

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