Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Lady, 1731 

John Vanderbank (1694-1739)

Portrait of a Lady, 1731, John Vanderbank
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
56 x 43 ¼ inches, 142 x 110 cm
Christies, London, 4th May 1951, the property of Mrs. Stocker, 20 Cadogan Place lot 28; Bt Schnabel £39.18.0; Italian Private Collection.
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John Vanderbank was born in London into an artistic family at the close of the seventeenth century. The son of John Vanderbank Senior, the well known royal tapestry weaver, Vanderbank studied painting first with his father and the portrait painter Jonathan Richardson. He was one of Godfrey Kneller's earliest pupils at the Academy of Painting from 1711, and in 1720, when Kneller’s academy began to decline, started his own Academy of painting in St. Martin's Lane. Although the St Martin’s Lane academy under Vanderbank was shortlived, it had an important impact on English art, and continued the introduction in England of life drawing classes for promising students such as Hogarth and Highmore.

Vanderbank himself was a very able draughtsman, who, in his prime, found his works favoured over those of Hogarth. His painting style followed on from the vigour and grand style of Kneller. His oeuvre, however, is characterised by a more vital and nervous drawing than many of his contemporaries, and by a bold pigmentation, particularly in the flesh, where pink tones are painted thinly over the cooler greys of the ground layer to suggest glowing skin – the technique of colori cangianti, derived via Rubens from the artists of the seicento. Equally distinctive in Vanderbank’s work is the means by which mid-tones are represented on the canvas by unpainted areas of grey-green primer, as seen in many areas around the head in this example, and the placing of pure red pigments for the highlights. The present picture, in excellent condition, is one of Vanderbank’s most attractive female portraits, and shows the inspiration he and his contemporaries took from Van Dyck. Not only is the sitter dressed in ‘Van Dyck’ costume, but her hands are modelled in the consciously elegant manner of Van Dyck.

Despite Vanderbank’s obvious skill, and his numerous portrait commissions (over thirty of his works, including those of Queen Caroline and Isaac Newton, were engraved), his career was short-lived. According to the art historian George Vertue, ‘he livd very extravagantly’, and by the mid 1720s was imprisoned in Fleet prison for debt. However, later in his life (about the time this portrait was painted) ‘he had the good fortune to have found a friend as a landlord Lord Carteret who lived in Hollis Street near Cavandish Square. Lord Carteret never took any money for rent and let him paint pictures’.
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