Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Joseph Taylor Esq. (1733-1772) as a young man 

Joseph Highmore 

Portrait of Joseph Taylor Esq. (1733-1772) as a young man, Joseph Highmore
Oil on canvas
18th Century
65 x 41 inches, 165 x 105cm
presumably Rebecca Holdsworth (née Taylor); By descent in the Holdsworth family, until sold; Captain F.J.C. Holdsworth of Widdicombe House, South Devon, Christies 9th November 1951 (Lot 12), as Vanderbank, 21 guineas;
Highmore was one of the most talented and versatile English portraitists of the eighteenth century. He first trained, for five years, as a lawyer but abandoned the practice and entered Sir Godfrey Kneller's Academy in London in 1713. When he began work as a professional artist in 1715 he found his natural ability to draw a sharp likeness soon won him a large clientele in the City, while his legal education and manner helped gain access to the nobility and gentry. Such was his success that the poet John Bunce wrote the following verse soon after the death of Kneller in 1723;

“No more let Britain for her Kneller grieve
In Highmore see a rising Kneller live
Whose happy pencil claims as high a name
If equal merit challenge equal fame.”

Although Highmore’s style first followed that of Kneller (as did whole generations of early eighteenth century artists), he also assumed the more forceful and realistic characterisation of Hogarth. As a result, Highmore’s portraits soon lost much of the Augustan stiffness of Kneller, instead showing a more subtle and fluid construction. This portrait of the mid 1750s demonstrates a further evolution of Highmore’s style following his trip to France in 1734. Like many of his contemporaries, such as Hayman and later Gainsborough, Highmore was heavily influenced by the French rococo manner first popularized by the influential French painter and engraver Hubert Gravelot, who arrived in London in 1732. In this example, the young Joseph Taylor is presented as an epitome of elegance and manners, his stance conforming to contemporary canons of artistic beauty and manners, and typical of those found in rococo art in Britain throughout the mid-eighteenth century.

Joseph Taylor was the younger son of Joseph Taylor MP (?1693-1746) a wealthy landowner in Devon. The elder Taylor’s will instructed that his son be placed “to such trade business or profession” as the executors saw fit. Such was the fate of second sons, and the young Joseph became a priest at the family seat of West Ogwell. He died unmarried at the age of 39, when this portrait presumably came into the possession of his sister Rebecca, who had married Arthur Holdsworth of Widdicombe (1733-1777), and in whose family this portrait descended until 1951.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.