Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of John Bridge (1755-1834), with Piddletrenthide Church in the background 

John Jackson 

Portrait of John Bridge (1755-1834), with Piddletrenthide Church in the background, John Jackson
Oil and Canvas
19th Century
30 x 25 ins. (76cm x 63cm)
Gifted to John Gawler Bridge, 1827; Bequeathed to his son Henry Gawler Bridge, thence by decent; Private collection, UK.
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This hitherto unpublished portrait which was, until recently, concealed by almost two centuries of discoloured varnish and over-paint (see condition report), depicts the celebrated jeweller John Bridge whose company, ‘Rundell and Bridge’, largely dictated the fashion for decorative arts in England during late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

Bridge was born in Piddletrenthide, Dorset, and in 1769 was apprenticed to the jeweller William Rogers in Bath. In 1776 Bridge moved to London where he found employment with Pickett and Rundell in Ludgate Hill, and following the retirement of William Pickett (1758-96) in 1786, he was invited to become a partner by Philip Rundell (1746-1827). This led the way to arguably the most celebrated partnership in the history of English goldsmithing. Although both master craftsman, their characters were hardly comparable, and they soon became known collectively as ‘Oil and Vinegar’, with Bridge (Oil) undertaking much of the networking and client-facing tasks on account of Rundell’s notoriously bad temper.

In 1805 Rundell’s nephew Edmund Waller Rundell joined the company and they were renamed Rundell, Bridge and Rundell. Their most famous appointment was undoubtedly that of the outstanding Regency silversmith to their staff, Paul Storr (1771-1844), whose plate is considered by many to be the finest of the period. In 1797 they had been appointed Royal Goldsmiths, Jewellers and Medallists – a position they held with warrant until 1843, spanning the reign of four monarchs. The company served the highest echelons of society and counted among their patrons William Beckford (1760-1844) and the Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852). By far their most celebrated commission was ‘The Grand Service’ [Royal Collection Trust] commissioned by King George (1762-1830) IV when Prince Regent, which cost a staggering £61,340 – approximately £4m in today’s money and on which later the designer Thomas Stothard and Paul Storr worked. So significant was this commission that when they exhibited the first works at their premises in Spring 1807, the whole of Ludgate Hill stood still with traffic as all the nobility (though strictly by invite only) flocked to view it.

The company reached its zenith in the mid-late 1820s, with offices worldwide in far-flung places such as Calcutta and South America. In 1827 they also diversified and established the General Mining Association and opened a colliery in Nova Scotia and then another in Dominion, running them until their sale in 1894 and 1900 respectively.

Bridge was a generous benefactor of his local community of Piddletrenthide, Dorset, and paid for the construction of a school built later in 1848, and it is quite possible, given its prominence in the background of this portrait, that he also supported the Piddletrenthide Church. Bridge died on 9th April 1834 at Manor House, Piddletrenthide, and his estate was valued at a considerable £400,000. Bridge was buried in the family vault in Piddletrenthide Churchyard and a carved marble profile of Bridge was erected by his relatives in one of the aisles within the church.

Towards the top-left corner of the painting we can read the precise inscription: ‘The gift of John Bridge Esq. To/His Nephew John Gawler Bridge/ 14th March 1827’. Research suggests that Bridge’s nephew John Gawler Bridge was married on 14th March 1817 in Piddletrenthide (to a ‘Sarah Johnson Sheldrack’). It seems highly probable therefore that this portrait was presented by Bridge as a ten-year wedding anniversary present. Unusually for this period, when items owned by the deceased were grouped and named under generic titles such as ‘pictures’ , the present portrait was also specified in the will of John Gawler Bridge: ‘[…]the portrait of my said Uncle by Jackson’ , highlighting its importance to the family.

A larger three-quarter length portrait of Bridge by John Jackson was engraved by Samuel Cousins (1801-87) c.1816-1835 [whereabouts unknown]. Although showing a similar head-type, the overall portrait is quite different, with a more expansive landscape depicted over Bridge’s right shoulder, and with his right arm resting on a table beside some books.

John Jackson was an English portraitist born in Lastingham, Yorkshire, who specialised in painting members of Georgian high society. From an early age, he pursued a creative career route, working as a tailor’s apprentice in his father’s workshop. Jackson would not be disheartened by his father’s disparaging sentiment towards his artistic ambitions, and went on to win the benefaction of some momentous patrons; notably, Henry Philips, 1st Earl of Mulgrave (1755–1831), and then by his recommendation, Frederick Howard, 5th Earl of Carlisle (1748-1825).

Philips first spotted Jackson’s talent by way of a crude sketch he had rather amusingly chalked onto a table top. The earl resolved to nurture Jackson’s budding artistic skill by sending him to receive apposite training in London. Accordingly, he enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy on 9 March 1805, then being elected an Associate a decade later, and finally achieving full membership on 10 February 1817. Jackson was recognised by his many friends and peers as a mild, pious and amiable man, who applied thought and precision to his profession.
Another notable patron was the amateur painter Sir George Beaumont, 7th Baronet (1753-1827), who invited Jackson to work under his roof in return for a nominal rental fee. This enabled him to attend the Royal Academy, where he would befriend the eminent artists Sir David Wilkie (1785-1841) and Benjamin Haydon (1786-1846). While staying at Castle Howard under the hospitality of the Earl of Carlisle, he much improved his eye through the study and imitation of the vast art collection hung there. He assiduously copied the paintings, producing watercolours noted by contemporaries to be some of best quality of their day.

By the age of twenty-nine, Jackson had secured his reputation as a society portrait painter in London. He gradually transitioned from watercolours to oils, regularly sending work to be exhibited at the Royal Academy. In 1816, Jackson travelled to the Netherlands and Flanders with the journalist Edmund Phipps (1808-1857), and then in 1819 onto Switzerland, Rome, Florence and Venice with his friend the sculptor Sir Francis Chantrey (1781-1841). In Rome, he painted a convincing portrait of Antonio Canova (1757-1822), deemed a triumph of likeness by his fellow peers.

Jackson was a prolific artist during his lifetime; depicting many noteworthy figures, including the Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) and the explorer Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) to name but a couple. His portraits betray the influence of artists including Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) and Sir Henry Raeburn (1756-1823) while his handling of colour was likened to that of Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92). One contemporary commentator, published in The Athenaeum, wrote that Jackson occupied a place ‘between the fine, elegant detail of Lawrence, and the vigorous generalities of Raeburn’. He married twice; first to the daughter of a jeweller, and next to Matilda, the daughter of the painter James Ward (1769-1859), but as far as we know, fathered no children.
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