Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Philip Harding 1790s

Sir Martin Archer Shee PRA (1769-1850)

Portrait of Philip Harding, Sir Martin Archer Shee
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76 x 63.5 cm
Viscount Curzon, Kedleston House, Derbyshire Sold Christie''s 22nd May 1955
Possibly exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1793
Born in Dublin and studying at the city's Royal Society Schools from 1781-83, where he won medals for both landscape and portraiture, Shee had established himself as a crayon portraitist of renown by the age of sixteen.

He moved to London in 1788 and entered the Royal Academy schools two years later on the advice of Reynolds and Gilbert Stuart,both of whom were to become strong influences on his style. Concentrating on oils and initially producing historical works, Shee moved into Lawrence's old studio in Jermyn Street that year and went on to become a much respected and highly successful society portrait painter. He was friendly with Hoppner and was similarly courted for Royal commissions; a portrait of Queen Adelaide was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1837, and that of Queen Victoria in robes worn at the opening of Parliament, in 1843. Lawrence was a further life-long influence, and in 1830 Shee was both knighted and succeeded him as President of the Royal Academy.

Aside from his considerable skills with pastels and brush, Shee was further known as a poet, novelist, critic and writer on art. He wrote ''Elements of Art'' in 1805, ''Commemoration of Reynolds and other poems'' in 1814 and two full length novels in 1829 and 1834. Byron was clearly sympathetic to his literary outings and in ''English Bards and Scotch Reviewers'', he writes of the artist;

''And here let Shee and genius find a place
Whose pen and pencil yield an equal grace:
To guide whose hand a sister art combine,
And trace the poet''s as the painter's line;
Whose magic touch can bid the canvas glow
And pour the easy rhymes harmonious flow'' (1)

Little of significance is known about Philip Harding, but a portrait of a ''Mr. Harding'' by Shee is noted in the Royal Academy exhibition lists of 1793 (no. 626). Whilst Strickland has assumed this to refer to a portrait of a Mr. Edward Harding, a likely relation who was librarian to Queen Charlotte and resident at Buckingham Palace, there is no evidence to suggest that it could not equally refer to this painting.

(1) The Life of Martin Archer Shee, Vol. I, p. 331.
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