Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of a John Robert Hopper (b.c.1799-1863), aged nineteen 

Charles Robertson (1760-1821)

Portrait of a John Robert Hopper (b.c.1799-1863), aged nineteen, Charles Robertson
Watercolour on ivory
19th Century
Rectangular, 4 x 3 in (10.3cm x 7.7 cm)
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Surprisingly little is known about the early life of Charles John Robertson, but he entered the Royal Academy Schools on 21st October 1797 aged eighteen and the following year exhibited a portrait miniature of a Spartan Boy from an address is Welbeck Street.

A period of relative obscurity until 1811 leaves this part of Robertson’s life shrouded in mystery, however by 1811 he was living in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, where he remained until 1814 when he was back in London and exhibiting from New Bond Street. He must have been a reputable artist in his day, for his list of clientele consists mostly of the titled gentry including a portrait of Lord Russell exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1817.

Before 1825 Robertson moved to Chiswick where he seems to have been occupied painting and exhibiting miniature still lifes as well as portraits, exhibiting works with titles such as ‘Wilmot’s new Strawberry; The Superb, raised from the seed at Islesworth’.

In 1829 Robertson was elected a member of ‘The Society for the Study of Epic and Pastoral Design’, better known as ‘The Sketching Society’; membership was restricted to only eight artists at any one time and was first established by brothers Alfred Edward and John James Chalon in 1808. Each member of the society would take it in turns to play host for the meetings and in return would be allowed to keep the sketches made that evening.

The present work can be dated from an inscription on the reverse to May 1818 and would have been painted to celebrate the matriculation of Hopper from school in Oby, Norfolk, to Christs College, Cambridge - The Great Gate entrance on St.Andrews Street can be seen in the background. Through the records of Christ College graduates we know that Hopper was born at Witton Castle, Durham, and was the eldest son of John Thomas Hendry Hopper who inherited the Witton estate through his uncle John Cuthbert, a sarjeant-at-law. Tragically, John Hopper the elder died in 1812 after falling down the stairs at Witton Castle and the estate was sold to Sir William Chayter, and Hopper, presumably, was sent to live with family in Norfolk. Hopper graduated as a Bachelor of the Arts in 1823 although choosing to enter the Church, being ordained as a Deacon in Norwich on 25th May 1823. By June the following year Hopper became a Priest and between 1829-49 he is recorded as a Curate of Wells before travelling to Baden in Germany to act as a British Chaplain until 1852, no doubt in response to The Baden Revolution of 1849. On his return from Baden Hopper became a patron of Wells until his death in 1863 in Wandsworth.
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