Completed East of England and The Midlands: Artists and Subjects, Portraits: British 18th C 79 Who is the gentleman depicted in this portrait by Joseph Wright of Derby?

Portrait of a Gentleman
Topic: Subject or sitter

Could anyone offer any clues as to the identity of this gentleman, depicted in a portrait by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734–1797)?

The collection, Manchester City Galleries, note:

'Attributed verbally by Benedict Nicolson to Wright of Derby, 1.10.1963, and dated on stylistic grounds as circa 1777–1780 (Nicolson, 'Joseph Wright of Derby, Painter of Light', Paul Mellon Foundation', 2 volumes, 1968). The painting is closely related in style to the portrait of Dr Charles Hague (1769–1821) by Wright, dating circa 1780s, in the Miss W. L. Hill sale, Christie's, 1965(?) (lot 39).

The Agnew's stock book (15 January 1901, no. 9674) records the picture as 'A Gentleman called The Hon. Thomas Bligh'; however, the Bligh family tree (the Earls of Darnley) reveals that there was no Thomas Bligh who could have sat for the portrait at that time, neither is there any record of a Bligh in Wright's account book. The only possible member of the Bligh family that this could have been a portrait of was John Bligh, who would have been in his late fifties when the picture was painted and the sitter is clearly much younger.

That's as much information as we have concerning the possible identity of the sitter.'

Jade Audrey King, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

This discussion is now closed. The title of the painting has been amended to 'A Gentleman (possibly Brooke Boothby)'.

Thank you to everyone who contributed to the discussion. To anyone viewing this discussion for the first time, please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion.


Tim Williams,

(from Christie's)

Thomas Blight, the presumed sitter, came from an old Yorkshire family who had settle in Ireland. He was the son of the Reverend Robert Blight, later Dean of Elphin, and his second wife, Miss Winthrop, and a nephew of John, 1st Earl of Darnley and General Thomas Blighe, who had a distinguished army career; the General bequeathed his estates and fortune to his younger brother the Dean. In 1790 Thomas married Theodosia, second daughter of John, 3rd Earl of Darnley, and his wife Mary, daughter and heir of John Stoyte of Street, Westmeath. He died in 1830.

Ward and Roberts, loc.cit., record a portrait of Thomas Cherbury Bligh in 1782, and sittings in October and December that year, and January and March the following year; payment was made in two halves, the final one in 1784.

A note under the entry mentions a portrait attributed to Romney of the sitter at Mancester City Art Gallery, which was purchased in 1901; this has, however, been re-attributed to Joseph Wright of Derby, dating from c.1777-80, the provenance for that portrait is given as the Collection of Charles Hamilton, Hamwood, Dunboye, Co. Meath and quotes another note from Mr. Hamilton's father to the effect that the portrait, together with those of other members of the family, were bought at the Bligh sale at Brittas; Mr. Hamilton senior was the great-grandson of Lady Mary Bligh by her marriage to William Tighe of Rossana, Co. Wicklow in 1736. This provenance could apply to the present portrait.

Tim Williams,

The Bligh sale was in 1841 - maybe there is a surviving catalogue.

The attached expands on the Christie's blurb from Ward & Roberts 'Romney: A Biograpical and Critical Essay' vol.2, pp.13-14 (Scribner, NY 1904).

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Tim Williams,

Presumably the attached image is the Romney catalogued by Ward & Roberts of Bligh painted in 1782.

Hoppner painted Bligh's wife Theodosia, Lady Bligh (daughter of John, 3rd Earl of Darnley) in 1796 - the portrait was exibited at the RA that year. Seemingly Thomas was the 1st Earl's nephew and Theodosia was the first Earl's grand-daughter.

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Mark Gray,

The Cambridge Alumni database suggests that Thomas Cherbury Bligh, matriculated at St Johns in 1780. This could therefore be a portrait commemorative of entry into undergraduate life?

The Holburne Museum,

Wright's patron and close friend Rev. Thomas Gisborne received his BA from St John's, Cambridge in 1780, having matriculated in 1776 (see ODNB). Could Gisborne have recommended Wright (who had already produced several paintings for the Gisborne family) to his college contemporary Bligh in 1780?

Patty Macsisak,

Have you considered that the portrait under discussion is The Honorable John Bligh (1767-1831), later 4th Earl of Darnley? He succeeded to his titles on the death of his father John Bligh, 3rd Earl of Darnley in 1781.

The Honourable John Bligh 1767-1831) was the brother of Theodosia Bligh (1771-1840), wife of Thomas Cherburgh Bligh (1745-1830, who died a debtor in prison after a rocky and litigious relationship with his wife's family).

To see an image of his portrait by Thomas Gainsborough ca. 1785, scroll down to John Bligh, 4th Earl of Darnley. A larger image would be greatly appreciated.

The identity of the sitter in the NGA, Washington, portrait as the 4th Earl of Darnley seems pretty certain, as the painting was apparently commissioned by him (see John Hayes's 'British Paintings' in the NGA's series of 'systematic' catalogues, 1992, as 1785). However, I suggest this is not the man who appears in the Manchester portrait. Gainsborough's sitter has a straight (verging on the aquiline) nose and a soft, broad jawline, compared with the slightly retroussé nose and narrow, more angular jawline of Wright's.

Patty Macsisak,

Thanks for your insight, Richard. I see that you are correct about the nose.

The Rt. Hon. Thomas Bligh (ca. 1654-1710) had three sons: John Bligh, 1st Lord Darnley (1687-1728); Lt.-Gen. Thomas Bligh (1693-1775) and Very Rev. Robert Bligh (?-?), father of Thomas Cherburgh Bligh. As far as I know, Thomas Cherburgh Bligh was not entitled to the courtesy title of "The Honourable" and was styled variously as Esq. or Mr.

Thanks, Patty. Thomas Cherburgh Bligh (despite not being 'The Hon.' and the fact that 'Bligh' does not appear in Wright's account book) would be a possibility if his date of birth were right. Judging from the sitter's appearance, that would have to be in, say, the 1750s -- perhaps a little late for a father (Robert Bligh) born perhaps c.1700 , but not impossible.

Patty Macsisak,

The Very Rev. Robert Bligh (?-1778) married his second wife, Frances Winthrop(e), in 1759 and subsequently had four children. The "History of Parliament" website states that Thomas Cherburgh Bligh was born "?1761" and that he graduated from St. John's Cambridge on 1 June 1780, aged 19.


While testing whether any of Lady Mary Bligh Tighe's descendants might be a possibility for the sitter, I ran across a statement about St. John's, Cambridge " had the added advantage of possessing the largest funds of any Cambridge college for assisting poor but able men to gain a university education." It would be interesting to know whether Thomas Cherburgh Bligh qualified for funds described above or if the legacy from Lt.-Gen. Thomas Bligh to his brother, the Very Rev. Robert Bligh paid for his nephews' education. At any rate, it is ironic that Rev. Robert Bligh would be engaged as Curate for Abbymahon ca. 1751-1778 for £ 15 per annum, only to have his son purchase a portrait by Romney for £ 42 soon after his death in 1778. (In all fairness, Rev. Bligh had other income, e.g., at various times, impropriator of Clondullane, Liatrim, Macroney and Curate of Kilmaloda; from 1768-1778, Dean of Elphin.)

Title Patrick Bronte: Father of Genius
Author Dudley Green
Edition reprint
Publisher The History Press, 2010
ISBN 0752462474, 9780752462479
Length 384 pages
Page 26

This, of course, ties in with Tim Williams's comments at the beginning of the present discussion -- allowing for a variation between 'Cherbury' and 'Cherburgh'. However, I am not absolutely certain that the image Tim Williams posts as presumably the Romney portrait of Thomas Cherbury Bligh recorded by Ward & Roberts (as of 1782) shows the same sitter as the Wright portrait in Manchester.

Patty Macsisak,

But the Romney portrait was started in 1782, so soon after the completion of the Wright portrait? Even if the Wright portrait was to celebrate the beginning of his career as an MP (1783-1800), it seems overconfident and extravagant.

Manchester Art Gallery,

It would seem the closest this discussion has come to an answer would be Thomas Cherbury Bligh but this is not nearly a certainty. Does the discussion have any further avenues of exploration?

Will Pinfold,

I'm sure it's been suggested before, but facially he looks to me quite like Sir Brooke Boothby, subject of that famous Wright portrait (attached)

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Osmund Bullock,

Roger, thank you...but I am not convinced by the resemblance, which to me seems very slight. Look at their noses: von Nolcken has a long, pointed one with a prominent bridge, while our sitter's could almost be described as 'snub'. Oh, and I don't think Downman was ever Wright's pupil or apprentice - that was Hurleston. You seem to have mixed up the information in the two Wikipedia articles you link us to.

Diana Donald,

Like Will Pinfold, I am struck by the resemblance to Brooke Boothby, as depicted by Wright in the full-length reclining Tate portrait of 1781. The sitter in the Manchester painting looks a bit younger, which would fit in with Nicolson's suggested date (on stylistic grounds) of late 1770s. The heavy-lidded eyes, the slightly effete air, the elegant but understated dress and the bookishness are all characteristic of Boothby.

Hugh Polehampton,

Just to say that William Tate was a pupil of Wright's probably from 1768 while Wright was lodging in Liverpool with Richard Tate, William's elder brother. Nicholson has a lot of references to the Tates and also to Thomas Moss Tate, William's nephew (Joseph Wright of Derby) and also Elizabeth Barker in 'Joseph Wright of Derby in Liverpool' 2007/2008- the catalogue for the Liverpool exhibition which also went to the Yale Center for British Art. See also the article I wrote for 'The Hidden Art of Barnsley' 2015-available on
I am afraid that this does not help identify the sitter but a previous post discussed Wright's pupils.

Michael Steele,

Is there any chance that this might be an earlier portrait of Charles Burney, music historian and father of Fanny the novelist, than the later portrait (1781) by Sir Joshua Reynolds in the NPG? They do seem to me to look very alike.

James Fairhead,

Might this not be a portrait of Robert Waring Darwin, son of Wright's close acquaintance (and medical doctor) Erasmus Darwin? Robert was sent to be a student at Edinburgh in 1784-6. A portrait would have been in order. There is in Wright's 'Accounts Book' an (undated) reference to two Sitters at Newark being Mr Darwin and Miss Darwin and perhaps these refer to two of Erasmus Darwin's children. In any case, this young portrait seems to match the portrait of Robert Darwin later in life. (Against this, of course, it is said that Wright's list of the 'Sitters of Newark' date from the early 1760s, but perhaps this is not entirely correct).

Lynn Lamport,

I have been researching for 30 years the identities of 514 subscribers to the Italian Opera for the year 1795 listed on an aide-de-memoire fan which I own. I have this portrait the source of which I unfortunately cannot verify at this late stage but I can pass on the information about this particular gentleman. He was Thomas Cherburgh Bligh, of Brittas, County Meath, cousin and husband from 1790 of Theodosia, sister of Lord Darnley. Known to be a querulous Irishman he was constantly looking for arguments, especially with his brother-in-law, the Earl. In 1812 he was tried and bound over to keep the peace and again in 1820, when he was bound over for a further four years. Unable to pay his sureties for his discharge, the hot-tempered Thomas died in the Kings Bench prison. Hope this helps.

Caspar More,

Could this portrait possibly be Richard Paul Jodrell (1745-1831). There is a Thomas Gainsborough painting of Richard Paul Jodrell dated circa 1774 which the facial features look similar to this painting. The Jodrell family also came from outside Manchester.

Andrew Graciano ,

Judging by costume, according to memory, the narrow collar, large buttons and wide cuffs on the jacket, which is relatively loose in fit through the sleeves, suggests a date in the late 1760s, early 70s. That could certainly date it to Wright's Liverpool period. It may then be Thomas Moss Tate (of Liverpool), Daniel Daulby (of Manchester), or Wright's pupil, Thomas Hurleston(e).

Martin Hopkinson,

Alex Kidson agrees that this is a Liverpool portrait - it does not look like Daulby - Thomas Moss Tate is perhaps a better possibility see the portraits of both men by William Tate in the Walker Art Gallery. Bendor Grosvenor thinks that a portrait in the National Portrait Gallery may be of Hurlstone by Wright - but this has not received universal acceptance [BBC Britain's Lost Masterpieces 2/2]
This does not seem to be the same sitter.

Bruce Trewin,

Lynn Lamport's comment brings back the suggestion of Thomas Cherburgh Bligh. Could she please clarify what she means by "I have this portrait"?

Simon Gillespie,

With regard to technique , Wright generally uses a twill canvas which normally is very noticeable. The twill has a pronounced 45 degree angle in the weave as opposed to the normal horizontal and vertical weave most artists supports. With a good image or close inspection this should be visible and worth checking.

Manchester Art Gallery,

I've studied the image and this is the point where the paint layer seems the thinnest where you can make out the canvas weave.

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Simon Gillespie,

That is very useful and I would say typical of the weave one finds on Wright. Also the paint application is his way of working. Great example with the way the button is painted and also the high light on the red lining. Simple small details with perfect application with the right amount of paint. Economical and confident Wright

James Fairhead,

I think the answer lies on the ARTUK website. This portrait bears a striking resemblance to Thomas Shrawley Vernon (1759-1825) who portrait is to be found at Hanbury Hall (on the National Trust Website, here: ). See attached for comparison. This identification also makes sense as (a) Thomas Shrawley Vernon was of the Vernon family of Hanbury Hall near Birmingham and its ‘Lunar Society’ with which Wright had longstanding links); (b) his cousin (from whom he eventually inherited Hanbury Hall ) was married to (eventually divorced from) the Marquis of Exeter who was an early patron of Wright of Derby (purchasing ‘Boys with a bladder’ and its pendant); (c) there is a record in Wright’s account book of his painting a ‘Dröper’ (at least transcribed as such, whatever that means) to a whole length picture for a ‘Lord Vernon’. Whilst there is a real ‘Lord Vernon’, this painting cannot be of them, as none were of the right age at the time of sitting. It is, however, not unlikely that Wright would have referred to Thomas Shrawley Vernon as ‘Lord’ given his ancestry and as he was then an heir. More research would probably turn up more. References to the account book entries are pp 17 and 19 in Elizabeth E. Barker. 2009. “DOCUMENTS RELATING TO JOSEPH WRIGHT 'OF DERBY' (1734-97) The Volume of the Walpole Society, Vol. 71 (2009), pp. 1-216

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Jacinto Regalado,

I do not see the resemblance. The Wright portrait has a longer, narrower face, no cleft chin, and much lighter-coloured eyes than the Vernon portrait.

It would be good to try to make progress with this interesting discussion started almost five years ago.

Simon Gillespie's opinion that the canvas and paint point strongly to Joseph Wright of Derby (as attributed) is very helpful. Among the suggestions received to date, as far as the facial resemblance goes (Wright was an artist known for producing excellent likenesses), I also lean toward Will Pinfold's speculation that this could be Brooke Boothby.

Although it’s speculation for the time being, could this be Boothby on his return from Paris in 1776 (aged 32)? Why might Wright have painted Boothby twice in close succession? It’s tempting to imagine that he might have produced this one (a half-length portrait with a published, bound book, a specific work) and expanded on the theme in Tate’s full-length, reclining homage to Rousseau’s philosophy in the widest sense. Nicolson dated this 1777–1780. The date of Tate’s picture is 1781 (so, between 1 and 5 years apart). (Rousseau himself visited Wootton Lodge in 1766, not 1776 – there’s a typo on Tate’s website).

Or, as Patty and Richard have considered, Thomas Cherburgh Bligh, perhaps painted on his graduation in 1780?

I’m ready to be judged swiftly for speculating wildly, but it’s as much an attempt to re-start the discussion. It would be good to try to find some basis for some of the earlier ideas too, but each probably needs quite a lot of work!

I am more convinced by the suggestion it is Boothby than any of the other candidates mentioned: it is not just likeness (which we know can be deceptive, though Wright had a great reputation for good ones). It's the colour of the dress, which at the least is a remarkably close coincidence to the full-length Wright portrait; also the inclusion of the book, ditto; and the same somewhat dreamy representation of character. Even Wright had limits to his sitter list, albeit the conclusion may have to remain 'Brooke Boothby (?)'/ or 'thought to be' him.

If its a question of which of the two portraits came first, then this looks marginally younger than the other (certainly not the other way round) and one could well see that this might have been a preliminary one -albeit fully finished in itself rather than just an apparent study: again, that would be more logical than the other way round. It's an Occam's Razor case: what is the minimum evidence for a rational conclusion? If it is not someone totally unknown to have been painted by Wright (e.g. a name we don't know at all, or one known but connected to a picture now lost without visual record), then what is the highest probability? Boothby certainly looks to be heading the field.

Whaley Turco,

Wright as well as Romney, Reynolds, Gainsborough and or any of the other boys in the band would have painted them all once a month if the sitter had the money. So Multiple Portraits usually meant the sitter loved how they were portrayed and they were comfortable with the artist. The Head Shots as it were usually came first, they were considerably cheaper and an easy way for the sitter to see if the artist was getting their likeness and if they got along with the artist. and if the artist got along with them. There has been many a Client Fired by their Artist.,

Sticking with Boothby and the 'double portrait', it's a commonplace that 'versions' (i.e. artist replicas, more or less), were often done for sitters as gifts, or by request of third parties. Sometimes one even sees examples of different-scale ones clearly done at the same time, of which the Greenwich full-length of Captain Sir Edward Hughes by Violante Siries and the head and shoulders version (c. 30 x 25) in the NT collection at Tredegar House in south Wales, almost certainly were: Hughes was only briefly in Florence to sit to her in 1761 and the f/l at least had certainly left there by 1762.

However, if this is Boothby it would -on apparent age - be a fairly conventional first shot before the very unusual horizontal full-length in the Tate (in the same dress, or at least the same colour): in other words, two different portraits presumably done for Boothby, of which he might have kept both or - at least after commissioning the second (Tate) canvas - passed the first on to another family member or friend. Alternatively the Manchester one might have been commissioned of him by an older relative (though I have no idea who among them was then still about) to mark his return from Paris, and -liking it -Boothby then got Wright to do his very idiosyncratic full-length: idiosyncratic, that is (though not unprecedented) as regards Boothby's taste and self-image, rather than Wright's choice of pose.

While other similarly parallel 'pairs' would not support the specific identification here, it would be interesting to know if there are examples, be they precedent or subsequent. Though no more than a personal view, I don't see a closer likeness than Boothby (facially, in expression, and taking the dress and book into account) in any of the other names so far put forward. In the absence of related documentation proving anything, a conclusion of any sort can be no more than best guess and 'Boothby (?)' is mine.

Wright's account book certainly allows for the possibility of there being another, earlier and smaller, portrait by him of Boothby. As transcribed by Nicolson, 1968 (vol.1, p.182), the attached entry immediately follows that for the Tate's full-length semi-reclining portrait (which cost £52 8s or 48 guineas). The bold type records Wright's own wording; the normal type is Nicolson's commentary.

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That's interesting Richard, if a bit puzzling as to 'copy of what' at 12 gns. Can anyone comment on Wright's prices for 'standard' formats? Allowing minor height loss, this is a standard 30 x 25 'half-length' as they (rather than 50 x 40s which are usually whole body plus a bit) tended to be called. My Nicholson and Judy Egerton's later Tate catalogue a buried deep in boxes, for which apologies....

Our painting is on a 30 by 25 inch canvas, known both generally and by Wright himself, albeit somewhat confusingly, as a 'three-quarters' (but definitely not 'half-length', which was 50 by 40 inches). Looking through Nicolson's catalogue, it seems that Wright's charge for a three-quarters portrait in around 1760 was 6 guineas, but this had risen to 12 guineas by around 1780.

Thanks and further apology; I'm the one crossing terminological wires over what at least today seems oddly contradictory. So, to interpret Nicholson:

1. 'Mr Boothby' listed at 6 gns c.1762-65, but the entry crossed out and replaced in the same group of sitters at 12 gns, with just that figure again crossed out and recorrected to 6 gns

2. 'Copy of Mr Boothby' done before 1777 at 12 gns

As Marion earlier pointed out (27/9/ 2019), Boothby returned from Paris in 1776 but had already met Rousseau ten years earlier in England, and become his notable champion.

He was 22 in 1766 and 37 when the Tate 'grand horizontal' was finished in 1781.

I don't think anyone has yet given Nicholson's identity for the Manchester picture (which he dated c. 1777-80) -though presumably not Boothby (?): that in itself seems a bit odd if only not to dismiss its apparent likeness as misleading.

That aside, and sticking with him as a 'possible' for the moment, could the three 'pre-Tate' entries really be references to what are probably two 30 x 25s of which no. 1 could be c.1766 and no. 2 the 'copy' at his later higher price? Age difference of 22 to 37 has differing effects in individual cases and the relatively slight one between the 'Manchester image' and 'Tate image' (if both Boothby) also accounted for by the latter being painted either from the portrait of 1766 or its later copy -which would presumably be the Manchester canvas if Nicholson's judgement of its date is correct. That might also explain why at least the clothing colour is the same fifteen years apart, unless it was one Boothby habitually favoured.

Martin Hopkinson,

There is a new book being prepared with extensive new research on Peter Perez Burdett, Rousseau and Boothby as part of it. I am in touch with the author over Burdett

Pieter: Nicolson (vol.1, p.183) catalogues the Manchester canvas as:

19 'Hon. Thomas Bligh' [the quotes indicating a previously assumed sitter identification not accepted by Nicolson].

He comments: 'No 'Bligh' appears in Wright's Account Book and the name of the sitter has probably been lost', which effectively dismisses, in his view, the Bligh possibility. Curiously, this entry is immediately above 20 Brooke Boothby, the Tate picture -- but Nicolson clearly made no connection between the two.

Nicolson dates the Manchester picture to c.1777-80. However, Alex Kidson, as reported by Martin Hopkinson above (10/11/17), dates it to Wright's Liverpool years, that is, 1768 to 1771, agreeing with Andrew Graciano's suggestion (04/11/17).

Unfortunately, Louise Dunning, Group Leader for East Midlands, needs to step down due to pressure of work. Could anyone suggest who might be approached to replace her please?

Thank you Richard: curious oversight indeed given the obvious similarity of dress alone, but if N. wasn't specifically looking for a parallel and it was a case of images (col. or BW?) coming together too late even to comment usefully, that might explain it.

Whaley Turco,

At this link are excerpts from Wright's account book. Under a heading of Account Book it discusses multiple Paintings for Boothby, who appears to have been paying his fees off as a loan. It also mentions his full length portrait.'s+Account+Book&source=bl&ots=pCjixeAqgR&sig=ACfU3U33KiLq3JE3eZ8KRBco-yYBhAluPg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjD4eC68pvnAhUSrVkKHZ6BAKAQ6AEwDnoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=Wright's Account Book&f=false

Whaley Turco,

Sorry Google is not being helpful. The Link I gave you will take you there but not where it should. If you enter this search in google and click it should take you to Page 55 then scroll down to a heading that says chapter 2. It's in the middle of the Page...
Enter "Wright's Account Book" Then you will see this in the middle of the search page. Joseph Wright, Esq. Painter and Gentleman
Andrew Graciano - 2012 - ‎Art Click on that."
Apparently hidden somewhere inside of this is a Map to the location of the Amber room. Write when you get there.

Whaley Turco,

If you continue scrolling through you will find a Plausible explanation for Boothby's pose. Boothby had smuggled Rousseau's half finished work out of France and then paid to have it published. Wright was recognizing him for this with the pose and his hand on said book. In Our painting the Subject is also holding a book in a protective way. I can't seem to find a full copy of Wright's Account Book anywhere online. Does anyone have a link to one?

Whaley, Benedict Nicholson's catalogue is not online. I'll post the information you've tried to add from my own copy of the catalogue next week, unless anyone else does it first.

A polite request to all contributors (myself included): please check that links work as intended before you post them. Thank you!

Osmund Bullock,

Whaley, I'm sorry, but your instructions are all but incomprehensible (and the humorous aside doesn't help). I don't understand why you are trying to take us to page 55 of 'Joseph Wright, Esq. Painter and Gentleman', and not to page 56 directly: that is where the Boothby account is mentioned - Unfortunately it is only a reference note to a section of the book not available in the preview, and on its own is hard to deduce much from. In any case the bond referred to only commenced in 1781, the completion date of the famous portrait at the Tate, so its relationship to any earlier portrait(s), if any, is uncertain - the extracts from the account book given by Nicolson and shared by Richard are more helpful, though still unclear.

What you say about Boothby and Rousseau's book is true enough, and the later Tate portrait clearly refers to this. As their catalogue ( says,"The key to the work is the vellum-bound volume**, which Boothby is holding. The poet indicates with his left forefinger the name ROUfSEAU [sic], inscribed on the spine." [**i.e. the unpublished manuscript, presumably]

But assuming our portrait is indeed Boothby, it must be earlier, and certainly before he had Rousseau's book published in 1780. So I cannot think that the book held by him is Rousseau's - and if it were, surely its spine and title/author would be visible, as it is in Wright's later (at length) portrait? Our book's author is anonymous: it is just a symbol of learning.

For what it's worth, I don't have any problem at all with our portrait showing Boothby in his early 20s vs his mid-30s in the Tate work - I think there is significantly more facial weight and age in the latter. My instinct is that the clothing style in ours is also consistent with a date in the 1760s; but I need to do more work on that - and as ever a more expert view would be most welcome.

Whaley Turco,

Osmund, if you can find you way back to that page again, I know it's a lot to ask, lol, but the specific paragraph I was trying to get you too mentions multiple paintings of Boothby by Wright. They seemed to have had an ongoing friendship based on all things enlightenment. And again sorry about not being able to put you straight on that page and paragraph. But, if you have the time Keep reading there is some interesting information.
As for the symbolism I agree, but, in both Paintings the sitter has a a firm grasp on the book. The usual symbolism of that time period placed the sitters hand on the book as if he was absorbing it by osmosis. In our two paintings Boothby is grasping it like it's a weapon.
In my mind, and maybe only there, that inks those 2 paintings as a continuing conversation.

Kieran Owens,

Re. Elizabeth E. Barker's 2009 “DOCUMENTS RELATING TO JOSEPH WRIGHT 'OF DERBY' (1734-97) The Volume of the Walpole Society, Vol. 71 (2009), pp. 1-216

This long article, including the full transcript of Wright's account book, can be read here for free:

Whaley Turco,

Thank You Kieran. I am trying to see if there is any mention of the Benjamin Franklin portrait that hung at the Corcoran Gallery of Art for years and years and has now been moved to the US National Portrait Gallery. So far it Has been attributed to Wright of Derby, Wright of the US, and Joseph Siffred Duplessis. Duplessis did produce the original pastel that at least 4 other paintings were based on. Including his own where Franklin was wearing a Red Coat. I Know I'm totally off topic. Thanks..

After six years and 57 comments, it seems unlikely that this discussion will go much further. However, the proposal that the sitter is possibly – or even probably – the young Brooke Boothby (1744-1824; 7th baronet from 1789) surely brings us as close to answering the question in the heading as we can expect to be.

The traditional identification of the subject as ‘The Hon. Thomas Bligh’ was not accepted by Benedict Nicolson in 1968 and the name Bligh does not appear in Wright’s account book. It has been appropriate nevertheless to revisit the possibility that Bligh or another member of his family might be the sitter – albeit without positive conclusion. Numerous other suggestions, none without interest, have followed. However, the only one potentially supported by related documentation is that of Brooke Boothby (first posted by Will Pinfold), based on comparison with the Tate’s large canvas of that sitter reclining in a landscape setting, of 1780-81. In this connection Wright’s account book records one or more smaller portraits of Boothby painted by the artist in the years before he executed the Tate picture – and the present whereabouts of any such earlier portrait or portraits is otherwise unknown.

Although Nicolson dated the Manchester picture c.1777-80, Andrew Graciano has here proposed a date in the late 1760s or early 1770s, confirmed by Alex Kidson’s view that the portrait belongs to Wright’s Liverpool years, i.e. 1768-71. This revised dating would indicate that the sitter in our picture, if Boothby, would be in his mid-twenties, whereas the famous Tate portrait shows him at around thirty-six or thirty-seven. An age difference thus of a decade or a little more for the sitter, if the same in the two portraits, would seem to accord with the images.

All of this should be seen in the context of Brooke Boothby being one of Wright’s most important patrons, buying paintings in other genres from the artist as well as commissioning portraits, employing him to retouch pictures in his collection and borrowing money from him.

That's a judicious summary Richard but I think the collection (and certainly Art UK) would be splitting academic hairs if - at least here - the title fails to change to 'Portrait of a gentleman (possibly Brooke Boothby)' or something similarly name-searchable online. I have little personal doubt on the matter and it would be great, in better times, to see it hung alongside the Tate portrait -ideally in Manchester rather than London. Boothby's an interesting character and his Derbyshire home turf much closer there to justify a modest new look at him as aesthete and patron.

Sue Evans,

I haven't read all the threads, and came across this when researching family history, so have no expertise whatsoever.
Perhaps a connection is that the Christie's sale 1965 was by a Miss Hill. There was a Miss Hill in the Boothby family: BOOTHBY, Miss HILL (1708–1756), friend of Dr. Johnson, born on 27 Oct. 1708, was grand-daughter of Sir William Boothby, third baronet, and daughter of Mr. Brook Boothby, of Ashbourne Hall, Derbyshire,_1885-1900/Boothby,_Hill
The likeness to Brooke Boothby in the Joseph Wright of Derby portrait is striking, down to the colour of the clothes, and to the older Brooke Boothby in the Sir Henry Raeburn portrait in the collection of the North Carolina Art Museum

Correction: Brooke Boothby (subject of the famous Tate portrait) was in fact the 6th baronet and not the 7th as recorded in the DNB, the Oxford DNB and elsewhere (and as thus inadvertently stated in my post of 11/11/2020). Brooke Boothby was born on 3 June 1744 at Ashbourne, Derbyshire. He succeeded as 6th baronet of Broadlow Ash, Derbyshire, on 9 April 1789, died on 23 January 1824, aged 79, in Boulogne and was buried on 13 February that year at Ashbourne. He was succeeded by his younger brother Major William Boothby (born 1745/46) who was to hold the baronetcy for just a couple of months before he died on 17 March 1824. The confusion would seem to have resulted from the similarity of the birth and death dates of the 6th and 7th baronets.

The NPG has, in addition to the 4th baronet mezzotint mentioned by Sue Evans, two copies of John Raphael Smith’s 1797 mezzotint after Reynolds’s portrait of Brooke Boothby:
The original painting, dating from 1784, is recorded in David Mannings’s Reynolds catalogue (no.203, as 7th baronet) as being in a private collection.

Hill Boothby (1708-1756), friend of Samuel Johnson, was indeed from an earlier generation of Brooke Boothby’s family.

Osmund Bullock,

The numbering confusion of the Boothby baronets has certainly been compounded by the very close dates of 6th & 7th barts; but the fundamental reason is that what was effectively the same baronetcy was created twice.

The first time, in 1644, the legalities of the process were not completed because of the Civil War - the patent had the King's signature, but lacked the Great Seal. This led to the would-be 2nd baronet of the first creation petitioning after the Restoration for a fully legal replacement baronetcy, which he received in 1660. He thus became technically the first baronet of the second creation, but was widely still considered the second of the first...and thus it has continued to this day.

Rosemary Wright 01,

I think the portrait looks very much like a young Josiah Wedgwood, if you look at the hairline, the eyes, the chin and the shape of the mouth, all remarkably similar, and he was only 4 years older than Joseph Wright, and we know that the two men were friends. So I propose that it could make the young Josiah Wedgwood a good candidate for the gentlemen portrayed in this work of art. Please see attached photo, which shows a picture of Josiah Wedgwood on the left, next to the portrait in question.

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Our portrait has been reliably dated on stylistic grounds to Wright’s Liverpool years, 1767-71. At that time Josiah Wedgwood, born 1730, would have been nearing 40 or even 40 years old. Surely our sitter is a considerably younger man. Brooke Boothby, born 1744 and thus in his mid-twenties at the time, far more comfortably fits the bill.

Manchester Art Gallery,

Thanks everyone for this long-running discussion.
I have just changed the title on our database to reflect Richard's conclusion: 'A Gentleman (possibly Brooke Boothby)'.
I too would love to see this next to the great Tate horizontal portrait. Maybe such an exhibition would lead to the loss of the 'possibly' - we can but hope.
Much appreciated, as ever.

Thanks: before this closes, and as an immediate substitute to hanging this alongside the Tate's Boothby, I wonder if one of the Art UK 'usual suspects' who are good at lining up composites, could take a head and detail of the Tate's, turn it clockwise by 90 degrees and put it alongside the Manchester head at the same scale (and possibly also flipped so both look the same way).....?

Andrea Kollmann,

Does this work Pieter? Or would you rather like to see more details of the two paintings?

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Thanks Andrea: that does nicely for the purpose, and remembering there are about ten years between the two images. Plus the books and the dreamy looks and the continuity of taste in pale lilac suiting it looks pretty good to me... but I'm off my patch!

Mark Wilson,

It's a very convincing comparison between the two faces, though there may be a little more than a decade between them if Wright's account books are interpreted that way and the Manchester picture dates from 1765-6 or so. It's certainly plausible as someone in their early 20s and you wouldn't expect much stylistic difference from the Liverpool period which only starts a few years later.

As with the Tate picture there may be a link with Rousseau who stayed at Wootton Hall, only 5 miles from Boothby's home, for about a year in 1766-7. Rousseau was already a celebrity and had published many of this best known works (Heloise, the essays on Education, the Social Contract) and the book in the picture may be one of those and have been painted in anticipation of a meeting or during the time when they must have met on many occasions. Later Boothby was to publish Rousseau's Confessions after the latter's death, presumably as arranged.

I wonder whether Boothby's distinctive dress in both portraits is influenced by Rousseau's thoughts on the topic. These are often seen as having an influence on women's fashion and encouraging a more 'natural' look, but they may have had some influence on how men dressed as well.

Sorry, I did not specifically check the exact time-lag: on the dress, either 'the sitter(s)' or Wright, or both, and in either or both paintings, would at least have been aware that its tone is not very different from what appear to have been pale blue eyes (which may also have been an element in the choice of cloth colour). The fact the eye colour also match in both images is a positive point of comparison, at least to the extent that not doing so would long ago have ruled Boothby out for the Manchester picture.

This has been one of Art Detective's longest running discussions and one of the most interesting. The quality and range of the contributions has been impressive indeed and Art Detective is grateful to everyone who has taken the time to submit excellent well thought out arguments. The weight of evidence suggests that the sitter is most probably a young Brooke Boothby (1744-1824), who became the 6th baronet Sir Brooke Boothby in 1789. It is recommended that the title of this painting should be amended to 'A Gentleman (possibly Brooke Boothby)'.

Jacinto Regalado,

I would go with "probably" rather than "possibly," but of course that is up to the collection.

Jacob Simon,

I think Grant is right as group leader to select "possibly", given the subjectivity of the evidence.