Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait Sketch of David Garrick (1717-1779) ''the last picture'' 1779

Benjamin Vandergucht 

Portrait Sketch of David Garrick (1717-1779) ''the last picture'', Benjamin Vandergucht
Oil on canvas
18th Century
20 x 16 inches 46 x 39 cm
probably Royal Academy 1779 (334) 'A head of the late Mr Garrick, the last picture he sat for.'
There is every reason to believe that this portrait of David Garrick is that which was exhibited by Benjamin Vandergucht at the Royal Academy in 1779, described in the catalogue as A head of the late Mr Garrick, being the last picture he sat for. The acuity of the painting in its characterisation argues at once that it is a portrait from life; the unresolved passage in the lower right of the oval suggests a sketch, in which the artist has concentrated on the head of the sitter, and treated the drapery in a far more perfunctory manner. Moreover, the age of the sitter in this portrait is greater than in Vandergucht's portraits of 1772-1776.

Vandergucht had painted Garrick in profile in 1772 as Steward of the 1769 Shakepeare Jubilee (engr. 1773, ?version exh. RA 1776 (309) Parham Park Collection). In this much-reproduced work the actor is shown half-length, with the wand of his Steward''s office, looking down at the Jubilee medal. This oval is clearly unrelated to that composition, which depicts a slightly younger man in a different attititude.

A painting in the collection of the Garrick Club, which ineptly depicts Garrick half-length, frontal, in an oval was once believed to be the painting exhibited at the RA in 1779 (Catalogue 1936 no. 469) but there is no evidence for this, nor any reason why such a portrait would be described only as A head. The most recent scholarship (Ashton Pictures in the Garrick Club 1997 no.243) rejects both the attribution to Vandergucht and the identification with the 1779 painting. By contrast the present oval head of Garrick remains the most likely of all existing Vandergucht portraits to be identified with the 1779 Royal Academy entry.

In style and composition this portrait stands among the best of Vandergucht's work. The smaller oval format was a favourite of his, and was employed at around this date for his Portrait of the Actor John Moody 1778 and his Self Portrait 1780. Theatrical portraits and scenes, many showing the influence of Zoffany, form a large part of his oeuvre, and it is in these and in portraits of actors that he expressed himself most competently, just as he seems to have derived most pleasure from the company of actors.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.