Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) 1730s

Francis Bindon 

Portrait of Jonathan Swift (1667-1745), Francis Bindon
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Extensive label verso Mrs Ridgeway, Housekeeper to Dean Swift, married post 1745 John Land Sexton of St Patrick''s; Miss Rachael Ridgeway, her daughter, married Rev. John Wisdom; Descent in the Wisdom family; Bought from Miss Wisdom 1838 by William Maguire.
It is noted on the label verso that this portrait''s frame is made from wood taken from St Patrick''s Cathedral Dublin at the time of its renovation.

Where Swift had sat in England in 1718 to Charles Jervas, in Ireland he chose Francis Bindon to produce a series of portraits produced from sittings in 1735. Jervas and Bindon had in common that they were the only native Irish artists to have studied at Kneller's Academy, though it is most likely that Swift was their only mutual client.

This vigorous and uncompromising image may well derive more directly from the 1735 life sittings than the hyperbolic full-length of that year (Howth Castle), in which the painter employs a cast of allegorical figures to commemorate Swift''s victory over the potentially ruinous introduction of Wood''s copper coinage. This event places the Bindon portraits at a significant moment in Swift''s career. The dispute over the coinage allied Swift for the first time with incipient separatism in Ireland, against the Government in England and against his former assertion that he was in every way an Englishman ''though he happened to be dropped'' in Ireland.

Swift himself responded to the exercise characteristically, writing in June 1735: ''I have been fool enough to sit for my portrait at full-length by Mr Bindon.'' Whatever reservations he may have had, however, regarding the rhetorical excesses of the full-length portrait, it is undeniable that this present portrait, showing the sitter in undress and in his own hair, offers a compelling and moving image of the great satirist facing a disillusioned old age.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.