Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of the artist Francis Hayman (1707/8-76), c.1756 

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-92)

Portrait of the artist Francis Hayman (1707/8-76), c.1756, Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA
Oil and Canvas
18th Century
20 x 16 in (50 x 41 cm)
French Private Collection
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This poignant study can be seen to represent a significant moment in the history of English painting. It was painted in about 1756, when the sitter, Francis Hayman, approached the end of a successful career, and faced the challenge presented by a new generation of talented artists – chief among them Joshua Reynolds. Reynolds was at this time the newly established genius of London’s artistic community, his position as the bright future of English portraiture confirmed. Having spent two revelatory years in Italy, Reynolds was able to offer clients a new interpretation of the ‘Grand Manner’ of old masters, something Hayman, who had only got as far as France, could never aspire to. It is tempting, therefore, to see this dynamic and powerful portrait as evidence of a transition between the old and new schools of English art.

Francis Hayman had himself known something approaching Reynolds’ youthful fame. In the early 1740s he, along with contemporaries such as Hogarth, established themselves as the first generation of native artists talented enough not to rely on foreign ideals, fashions and teachers. Hayman was a remarkably adaptive artist, painting landscapes, portraits and, most notably, conversation pieces. His paintings for the Vauxhall gardens proved extremely popular and were widely engraved. And his pupils included Nathaniel Dance and Thomas Gainsborough. His impact on English art is therefore sizeable. One of his pupils, however, was forced to comment that, towards the end of his career in the 1760s, he had become “very deficient in point of colouring and correctness of drawing”, although he still then possessed “…genius and a great facility of invention.” [Nathaniel Dance, quoted in Brian Allen, ‘Francis Hayman’ (London 1987) p59].

This work is one of two versions of the subject. The first, somewhat larger, is at the Royal Academy. The second, according to Nicholas Penny, would have been done when the RA example was at a less complete stage, and “which he feared was becoming laboured and might lose some quality when it was developed further.” [as quoted in Mannings, loc.cit.]. Certainly, the present example is less thickly painted and less worked up than that at the RA. We must also remember that Reynolds often painted two versions of the same subject simultaneously, later abandoning one in favour of the final choice, and that the 1750s saw him embark on a period of experimentation, constantly trying new techniques and types of paint. The example here suffers, like that at the RA, from faded red pigments, but is arguably more successful in presenting the drama of a figure emerging from the shadows, and commands more depth.

Reynolds and Hayman seem always to have been on good terms with each other. The latter appears frequently in Reynolds’ appointment diaries in the 1750s and 60s. An early biographer of Reynolds noted Hayman’s “special claim on Reynolds’ regard” – the fact that both men came from Devon. Both had also been pupils of Thomas Hudson. Hayman was later President of the Society of Artists, the precursor to the Royal Academy, and when, in 1769 the Royal Academy was eventually formed, with Reynolds as its first President, he was given the post of Librarian as a sinecure.
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