Historical Portraits Picture Archive

John Prideaux Basset (1740 - 1756) c.1747 - 8 1747 - 48

Allan Ramsay (1713-84)

John Prideaux Basset (1740 - 1756) c.1747 - 8, Allan Ramsay
Oil on canvas
18th Century
59 x 38 inches 151.1 x 97.8 cm
By descent to A.L. Basset Tehidy Park, Cornwall; His sale Christie's January 9th 1920 (139) bt. Robinson 230gns; With Knoedler London 1921; MacNicol Glasgow 1953; Bt. By the 2nd Viscount Weir (d.1975); By descent to 2003.
J. L. Caw Allan Ramsay Portrait Painter Walpole Society XXV 1937 p.47; Connoisseur CXXI 1953 pp 72, 113 Alastair Smart (edited John Ingamells) Allan Ramsay A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings Yale 1999 no.40 fig.258
As a tour de force of painting this canvas fizzes with the very latest visual conceits. Like Ramsay's contemporary Norman 22nd Chief of MacLeod (Dunvegan Castle) and Hon. Francis Charteris and Lady Katherine Gordon (Private Collection) and Thomas Hudson's Gentleman supposed to be Charles Douglass (Christie's November 21st 1975 lot 88) it employs the commanding pose of the Apollo Belvedere, by which Ramsay may have influenced Reynolds's posture for Commodore Augustus Keppel 1749, one of the most widely-discussed portraits of the mid-eighteenth century.

The precise extent to which the works influence each other, or perhaps the sequence in which they do so, is unimportant1. This painting is at the cutting edge of portraiture at a time when the more sophisticated painters such as Ramsay and Reynolds were trying to break free of the ''St Martin''s Lane'' mode in the search of a more dynamic and expressive vocabulary. The order in which each painter may have become aware (via copyists and engravers) of these influences is largely immaterial, as it may have been virtually simultaneous and the hunger for innovation was common to all.

Despite his studies in Rome under Francesco Imperiali and Francesco Solimena, much of Ramsay's work in the 1740s remains a more inspired version of Thomas Hudson''s manner, a closeness emphasised by the fact that both employed Joseph van Aken as their drapery painter. However, certain portraits, such as this and Norman 22nd Chief of MacLeod point in the direction that his style was to take as he strove in competition with Sir Joshua Reynolds.2

Van Dyck costume in child portraiture had only recently become popular, helped by the success of works such as Thomas Hudson''s Courtney Children 1744 - 5 (Powderham Castle, Devon), although it had enjoyed a vogue for over two decades for adult sitters. Ramsay relishes the extravagant possibilities of the costume that is designed to recall Van Dyck''s portraits of the young Charles II. The faithful greyhound that keeps close to Basset''s side and gazes up devotedly has many parallels, deriving at a remove, for example, from the hound beside Philippe LeRoy in Van Dyck''s portrait (Wallace Collection, London).

Sadly John Prideaux Basset did not live up to the commanding potential of this image. He died May 28th 1756 at the age of sixteen, when the estate and house of Tehidy Park in Cornwall passed to his uncle, Francis Basset MP, the younger brother of the sitter''s father John Pendarves Basset. This was the second time that Francis Basset had inherited Tehidy. At the death of his brother in 1739 the estate had passed to him, only to be placed in trust for his nephew when it became apparent that Anne Basset nee Prideaux was pregnant with the posthumous son of her husband. Death had interrupted John Pendarves Basset in the building of the first truly neo-Palladian house in Cornwall, a four-pavilioned house heavily influenced by the Villa Mocenigo to the design of Thomas Edwards of Greenwich. This was scarcely begun when Basset died, and during his son's lifetime it would appear that little further was done to the house, which was completed in the lifetime of his uncle.3

1. The arguments concerning the origins of the Ramsay/Hudson and Reynolds poses are excellently summarised in David Mannings Sir Joshua Reynolds A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings Yale 2000 Text volume pp.287 -8 sub cat.1037 and Smart 1999 pp.152 - 3 sub cat.340

2. The easy harmony of earlier compositions such as Thomas 2nd Baron Mansel with his Blackwood half-brother and half-sister 1742 (Tate Britain) shows, of course, that Ramsay was capable of the most sophisticated compositions before 1747.

3. Building Country Houses on Cornish Estates 1730-1830 . Pamela Dodds Cornish History Network Conference 2002: The Country House
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