9 Who is this distinctive-looking man, and who painted his portrait?

Topic: Subject or sitter

This man is so distinctive that someone might be able to identify him. I think it's a rather good painting and close to Wright of Derby.

My suggestion for the sitter is Henry Harington M. D. (1727–1816):


The collection comments: 'The painting is thought to be a portrait of Nathaniel St André by an unknown artist. It was purchased from the Council of the Hartley (now Southampton) University Library in 1904 by Southampton City Council as a portrait of George Frederick Pitt (donor of the Pitt Library).'

Tim Williams, Entry reviewed by Art UK


Joanna Wakefield,

Maybe Sir Isaac Watts. I believe he wrote the music of Southampton Civic Centre bells chime. He has a large nose, which upon looking at other portraits, they also have large noses.

Joanna Wakefield,

It is also the School hymn for King Edward VI School, Southampton, which Isaac Watts himself attended, the peal of the Southampton Civic Centre clock tower and The Laidlaw Memorial School and Junior College, Ketti. Wikkapeadia

Osmund Bullock,

I'm pretty sure Isaac Watts (no 'Sir') was long dead by the time this was painted (?1760s-80s - I agree it could be Chamberlin). There are many images of Watts online, all wearing the bands of a non-conformist minister; and though there is some variability of features, none looks remotely like this man.

Henry Harington is also not possible, Tim, I fear. The portrait on which your print is based was painted by Beach in 1799 (see http://bit.ly/2sbhcVS ), yet shows a far less ravaged face. And there is another c.1815 portrait of him as an old man by Slater (print after it here http://bit.ly/2raSMfK ), exhibited posthumously at the RA in 1819 - this is all too late...and he still doesn't look decrepit enough.

Southampton have rightly concluded that George Frederick Pitt (bap Feb 1766-1835) is too late, and they suggest his natural father Nathaniel St André (d.March 1766 age 96) in old age instead. Portraits of St André (the credulous self-publicist 'rabbit doctor' of 1726) seem to be mainly genetic caricatures, except possibly for this http://bit.ly/2qswDbR ; but even if reliable, it is too early an image to help much. But if the likeness of his supposed son G.F.Pitt in the Royal Collection http://bit.ly/2qptqOk (and see also http://bit.ly/2qwns9u ) is authentic, his aquiline nose and protuberant chin (even allowing for some exaggeration by Dighton) seem unlikely to have emerged from the genes of the man in our portrait. But perhaps the ninety-something year-old Dr St André was as gullible about being the father of his former maid servant Mary Pitt's two bastard sons as he had been 40 years before about Mary Toft being the mother of 15 rabbits. His death shortly after George's baptism meant that he did not live to see some rather surprising facial features grow from his alleged son and co-heir's infant face.

So on balance I feel Southampton's suggestion is still very plausible - certainly it seems to have come from St André's collection, left to Southampton by Pitt; but to prove it will probably be impossible.

Mikael Forup,

It looks to me like a late portrait of Dr Johnson

Chris Rose,

I have seen that face before in connection with the Lunar Society of Birmingham,Wright had connections them and painted some of it’s members.

Mikael Forup,

I agree that the laws of probability dictate this is unlikely to be a portrait of Samuel Johnson. However, I think it's wrong to dismiss the idea with reference to a single portrait of a younger man. You might equally well argue that it's the man in the following portrait by Reynolds - after another dozen or so years of drinking a bottle of port a day! ...

Osmund Bullock,

Mikael, it’s not a matter of probability that they are not the same man – they are facially nothing like each other, whatever the age gap. Assuming your comparison link is to one of the many versions/copies of Reynolds' ?1772 (dated elsewhere to c1778) portrait of Johnson (your link is incomplete), Pieter van der Merwe's single reference to the Barry portrait (which is *later*, c1778-1780) seems a very valid comparison. It was painted just 4-6 years before Johnson's death; and short of the man having been struck repeatedly in the face with an iron bar in between, they cannot conceivably be the same person.

I'm attaching a composite of the two images for direct comparison, along with several other late portraits (including one based on his death mask). To keep thing simple, look at the mouth and the nose. All the portraits of the living Johnson show the same prominent, fleshy and almost pouty upper lip, though in the death mask it has collapsed or been pressed flat by the casting; our sitter has a very thin one. And all of them, including the death mask, show the same long, straight nose, with little or no thickening at the tip; our sitter’s nose is significantly shorter, and kicks up into a notably large and bulbous end. I could discuss, too, the eyes and eyebrows (and how they’re held), but I don’t think it’s necessary.

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