Friday, April 26, 2013

German visitor and friend of Goethe Sophie von La Roche in London 1786, pays a visit to Stuart who now reigns at the top with Joshua Reynolds and West, in grand digs

Stuart left Newport RH in the fall of 1775—already the colonies were under threat of war, the harbor had become so dangerous that Stuart’s ship was held up for a week by a British man-of-war.  The goal was London.  Stuart surely knew that Benjamin West (born in PA) was already there. Out of funds quickly thereafter, he auditioned successfully as a church organist and lived in “cheap lodgings” (according to his daughter.)  The artist continued to be destitute, finally sometime  in the late winter of 1776 Stuart wrote to West to ask for help “to live and learn.”  Stuart’s talent began to unfold and success quickly followed. 

In 1782 Stuart achieved an explosion of prominence, and his reputation skyrocketed, with the display of his portrait The Skater in the Royal Academy’s exhibition of that year, allowing him to leave his apprenticeship with West.  He now felt that in order to better convey his success and prosperity, impressive expensive lodgings were in order (despite the cost).  He rented a grand house, as was usual with other successful portrait painters, which also provided the suitable surroundings for his more prominent sitters and for proper entertainment. It was here, on Sept 13 1786, that Sophie von La Roche [from Germany] visited Stuart. 

The Skater by Gilbert Stuart 1782

Sophie kept a diary of her trip to London, one day was designated to paying tribute to famed English artists. September 13, 1786: She begins her entry “An extraordinary day!” and continues “Pictures by Reynolds, Gainsborough, West and Stuart; then to Green, the engraver’s.  To my mind, in the homes of these men the English character glistens like the gold they employ for the encouragement and reward of diligence in art; the numerous orders and the artists’ prosperity are evidence of this.  Lovely homes, apartments hung with pictures by famous old masters, bronze and marble ornaments—these are one’s first impressions;

... “we found West, the painter of historical scenes, there in person, surrounded by pupils and masterpieces by his own hand.  He received us nobly, though unassumingly, in the manner of all great achievement.  He works in a room lit from above, and the gallery leading to it is hung with sketches of completed pictures of which engravings had been made....

[and here are the few comments made when she visits “Mr. Stuart.”  One could come away with the impression that Sophie did not care for the turn of the conversation towards the price of portraits]
...“From here we arrived at Mr. Stuart’s, a young, but respected artist, who will become an excellent portrait painter; he already has plenty to do, and deserves every encouragement.  He, too, lives as if in the hall of the temple of the Muses, in rooms of magnificent style, fit for true genius to unfold its wings and soar.  Fine architecture surrounds him; and it would be almost impossible for him to introduce anything niggardly or anxious into his pictures.  But in accordance with all this, 20, 50, 100 and 150 guineas are the sums quoted here when the talk turns to the prices of portraits.”

No other words referring to Stuart. Sophie visited the engraver Green, and then lunched with "Mr Heinzelmann" a relative.  A brief description of the rest of the afternoon: "We had an old English menu; a large fish, boiled mutton, pudding, boiled cabbage with butter, and a roast.  Punch was made at table.  After the meal Miss Heinzelmann played the piano and sang until I was fetched to see Somerset House, a magnificent palace built in four large wings dedicated to the academies of science and art."

Stuart did not last long in his grand digs.  1787 he went to Dublin at the invitation of a patron (who unexpectedly died), and decided to stay.  To avoid creditors in London?  In 1789 he was sent to debt prison where he irreverently continued to paint portraits for "bread."

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A Stuart is auctioned, but is this William Brownlow the real Stuart?

I noticed a Gilbert Stuart portrait "The Right Honorable William Brownlow" was sold recently at auction at Sotheby's--my first question these days is "IS IT GENUINE?"  Now, I am not a titled expert.  But if one compares this portrait to the excellence of the portrait of Meeker, a question as to authenticity might be raised.  Does this portrait nail the likeness of Brownlow, or does it have an "artistic" look?  Could it in fact be a copy?
The estimate sale price was $15,000 to $25,000. and it sold for $27,500.00
Thus one should be certain that the artwork is genuine, and one would think that Sotheby's would know a copy from the real thing. OR. Might Sotheby's be interested more.... in a sale?  How much research does an auction house carry out on a particular artwork...

The portrait of Brownlow indeed is listed in the Lawrence Park volumes, with his image (however only in black and white.)  A swift comparison shows that the portraits are the same.

PROVENANCE (as provided by Sotheby's)
Sale: Heritage Auctions, Dallas, November 11, 2009, lot 66013
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

The Right Honorable William Brownlow (1726-1794) 
by Gilbert Stuart c.1790 Dublin

Dublin, c 1790.  Half-length, seated half-way to the right in an armchair upholstered in red.  His gray-blue eyes are directed to the spectator.  He wears a very dark blue velvet coat, a pale yellow figured or embroidered waistcoat, a white neckcloth and ruffled shirt.  His wig is powdered.  His right hand, holding a letter, is resting on a table covered with a soft gray-blue cloth.  The plain background is the color of dark oak.

A son of William Brownlow of County Armagh, Ireland, by his wife, Lady Elizabeth Hamilton, daughter of James, Sixth Earl of Abercorn.  In 1754 he married first, Judith Letitia Meredyth of Newtown, Meath; in 1765 he married, second, Catherine, daughter of Roger Hall of Mount Hall, Downshire, Ireland.  He was a Member of Parliament for County Armagh.  His grandson, Charles Brownlow (1795-1847) was, in 1839, created Baron Lurgan.


The image in Park matches that which was auctioned, as far as I can tell.  But, if one compares the style of portrait between Brownlow and Meeker, Meeker appears to be so unbelievably accurate, to be almost a photograph. (My mother's dog Sammy used to look up at the portrait of Meeker and bark in the light of the setting sun!)  Possibly however Stuart DID have a different style in his earlier years in Dublin? But take a look at Aaron Burr, painted ca. 1794.

Aaron Burr by Gilbert Stuart ca. 1794

This is more of a Meeker style, not a Brownlow style.

And where is a more accurate provenance (history of ownership of the painting) of "Brownlow"?  Why is it lacking so substantially?  Where is the info that this portrait was, in the early 1900s, in the possession of Lord Lurgan of Brownlow House in Ireland (provided by Park)?

Reading Park more closely I found the following:

"A replica (or copy?) of this portrait is owned by Viscount de Vesci."

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