Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a Young Man 

Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland RA MP, 1st Bart (1735-1811)

Portrait of a Young Man, Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland RA MP, 1st Bart
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches, 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Canadian Private Collection
Nathaniel Dance trained, like so many of his contemporaries, in Rome, where he studied and collaborated with Pompeo Batoni. It was probably while under Batoni’s influence that Dance developed the use of the highly pitched colours that became his trademark, and which help convey this engagingly direct image of a gentleman at leisure. However, Dance’s first master, in England, was Francis Hayman, and like many of Dance’s early portraits this example retains something of the idiosyncratic languor of Hayman’s compositions.

Dance initially worked in Rome as a history painter, but soon became known, as Walpole noted, as “the celebrated English painter at Rome” . His best portraits were of ‘Grand-Tourers’ such as Augustus, Duke of York (1764, Royal Collection) and David Garrick. The present sitter may well also be a Grand Tourer. It was in Rome too that Dance began his passion for the painter Angelica Kaufman, and where the two apparently determined to marry on their return to London in the 1760s – though sadly the union never occurred, much to Dance’s chagrin.

Once back in London Dance established a successful portrait practice, where he continued to paint the colourful and expressive portraits for which he had become famous. At some point in the 1770s he became financially independent, and finally ceased painting professionally on his election to Parliament in 1790, when he also resigned his membership of the Royal Academy, of which he had been a founder member. He became a Baronet in 1800. In a curious reflection of the relatively low social status of artists in the early nineteenth century, Dance took care to disassociate himself with his artistic past, destroying many of his works, and exhibiting only the occasional landscape at the Royal Academy (in the catalogues of which he was listed in all cases, as ‘a gentleman’). Dance saw his great talent as a mere trade, and thus the work of Britain’s first neo-classical artist has become less well known that it otherwise should be.

This newly discovered portrait is one of Dance’s most attractive English portraits of a young man. At some point in its history, probably in the late 19th or early 20th Centuries, the vividly coloured background was over-painted a uniform dark brown. This has now been successfully removed by conservation at Philip Mould & Co.

Oliver Millar, Later Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, London 1969, p 23
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.