Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Major Richard Callis 1741c.

Richard Wilson 

Portrait of Major Richard Callis, Richard Wilson
Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
The Collection of Mr and Mrs Basil Ionides, Buxted Park, Sussex; By family descent to 2004.
Christopher Hussey Buxted Park IIII Country Life August 18th 1950 p.520 ill.
Before he acquire a reputation as the foremost eighteenth century exponent of landscape painting in the British School, Richard Wilson began his career as a portraitist. This was the prevailing genre in which artists could practice in this country. Wilson was born at Pengoes in Wales, but was trained in London under a now little known painter, Thomas Wright (fl1728 – 37). He had a respectable practice by 1744, but faced stern competition from the other established London masters and by the late decade had decided to travel to Italy for study and to seek new patronage. He arrived in Venice in late 1750, and then moved to Rome two years later, where he resolved to follow a nascent inclination to landscape painting. There the omnipresent classical past, the influence of Claude Lorraine and Gaspar Dughet and the ready supply of patronage from rich Englishmen eager for a souvenir of their Grant Tour confirmed him in his pursuit of the new genre.

Works such as the Portrait of Major Richard Callis demonstrate that Wilson’s talent in portraiture is not to be underestmated, whilst at the same time his technique in these early works presages the execution of his landscape paintings. In particular the broad, clear use of colour and the preference for strokes of white impasto – here employed in the wig – have parallels in the landscapes, where the white pigment is similarly impastoed in the clouds.

The sitter is dressed in the uniform of the First – or King’s - Dragoon Guards. The regiment had been raised to deal with the insurrection of the Duke of Monmouth in 1685, and since then had enjoyed an illustrious history. By the date of this portrait, the regiment had engaged with the French at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743 – where the British Army was led in person by King George II; the last instance of a British sovereign commanding the army in the field – and at Fontenoy in 1745. Both of these victories are born as battle honours to this day by the 1st The Queen’s Dragoon Guards as the old regiment has become by the process of amalgamation.

In the twentieth century this portrait was acquired by The Hon Mrs Nellie Ionides. Mrs Ionides was the fourth daughter of Sir Marcus Samuel Viscount Bearsted, himself a great collector, the majority of whose paintings now form the Bearsted Collection at Upton House (National Trust). Mrs Ionides collected British painting of the early and mid-eighteenth century at a period when the English rococo was little regarded, and her pictures, some still in family ownership, others in numerous galleries including the Victoria and Albert Museum, are a testament to the taste that she and her husband, the architect Basil Ionides fostered for this important and entrancing period of British art.
Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.