Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Samuel Ward (1732 – 1820) 1790s

Joseph Wright of Derby ARA 1734 - 1797

Portrait of Samuel Ward (1732 – 1820), Joseph Wright of Derby ARA
Oil on canvas
18th Century
Canvas size 30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
Private Collection
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This portrait is an autograph version of the portrait, dated by Benedict Nicolson to the 1790s, in the collection of the Derby City Museum. Like many of Wright’s best works it is of a local Derby sitter, although in this instance it is not of an industrialist or member of the local gentry, but of a man with a more unusual claim to fame. As a child Samuel Ward had been appointed taster to Prince Charles Edward Stuart ‘The Young Pretender’, when the Prince had stayed in Derby in December 1745 during his invasion of England at the head of a Scottish army.

Derby was, famously, the southernmost point reached by the Jacobite forces – within 140 miles of London – and although they were shortly to turn back before their long march back to Scotland and eventual defeat at Culloden Moor in the following summer, this was the moment that the Jacobites appeared to the English to be most likely to succeed in overthrowing King George II and his government and restoring the Stuarts to the throne of Great Britain. Young Samuel Ward was the son of the late Chief Alderman of Derby, and his widowed mother was chosen to play host to the Prince when he stayed at Essex House in Derby on December 4th. Ward was chosen for the dangerous-sounding but honorific post of taster to the Prince, for which he was presented with a diamond ring. This ring was recorded to be in the keeping of a descendant living at Asgill House in Richmond as late as the mid-twentieth century, where it was kept with the version of this portrait now at Derby.

The present portrait makes no illusion to this remarkable appointment but shows Ward as he was by the 1790s – a prosperous Derbyshire bourgeois who also had property by purchase and by inheritance from his wife in Richmond, where he owned adjoining houses in Maids of Honour Row. The typical traits of Wright’s portraiture are apparent – an easy handling of the fall of light that diffuses over the sitter’s face, and along the shoulders of his coat to give the soft appearance almost of pastel – a reminder that Wright was also an accomplished painter in chalks and pastels. The characterisation is also typical of Wright, who does not flatter or amend his sitters’ appearances, and inspires confidence in the viewer in his ability to convey the dour likeness and shrewd character of this shrewd and prosperous Derbyshireman, whom chance elevated to be a privileged spectator at a crucial moment in the history of his lifetime.
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