Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Felice di Giardini 1716-96, italian violinist and composer 1760

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-92)

Portrait of Felice di Giardini 1716-96, italian violinist and composer, Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA
Oil on canvas
18th Century
23 3/4 x 18 1/2 inches 58 x 48.7 cm
William Cox Esq. John Green Esq. His sale, Christie''s, 22 July 1871, Lot 108, Giardini, Engraved, bt. Thomas, 1 7s. Private Collection, U.S.A.
Algernon Graves & Walter V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1899, Vol.1, p.358. Alfred Whitman, Samuel William Reynolds, London 1903, No.lll,p.48. Freeman O''Donoghue, Catalogue of Engraved British Portraits in the British Museum, 1910, Vol.11, p.324. David B. Brown, The Earlier British Drawings, Vol.IV of The Catalogue of the Collection of Drawings in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford 1982, pp.520-1. Nicholas Penny ed., Reynolds, Exhibition Catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1986, pp.207-8.
Samuel William Reynolds (1773-1835)
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In 1750 Giardini, already the leading violinist of his generation, took up the invitation of Frederick, Prince of Wales, to become the Royal Director of Music. With the help of royal and aristocratic patronage, he was the first violin virtuoso of eminence to establish himself in London where he became a dominant and controversial force over the next twenty years.
He is acknowledged by both the social commentator, Samuel Johnson and the playwright Oliver Goldsmith as the leading violinist in England at this period:
The greatest musical performers have but small emoluments. Giardini, I am told, does not get above seven hundred a year.
That is indeed but little for a man to get, who does best that
which so many endeavour to do.
Felice de'' Giardini (1716-96), an Italian of French descent, studied music firstly in Milan and then moved to Turin to learn the violin under G.B.Somis. He played in the opera orchestras of Rome and Naples. In Naples at the Teatro San Carlo he quickly advanced from the back seats to the position of deputy leader. He gained a reputation for his embellishments and credenzas - on one occasion, the composer Jommelli gave him a violent slap in the face, as he improvised during a performance of one of his operas. He was humble to acknowledge this as the best lesson I ever received from a great master in my life. Shortly after this Giardini embarked on a solo violin playing career, leaving Italy in 1748 to undertake a concert tour of Europe. After great success in Berlin, he came to England by way of France.
According to Charles Burney, his first public performance was at a benefit concert at Cuzzoni''s on 18 May, where he was accorded an enthusiastic reception. In 1751, with the oboist Thomas Vincent, Giardini began a series of subscription concerts. In about 1753-4 he married the singer Maria Vestris, but the marriage was apparently of brief duration. In 1755 he took over and revitalised the orchestra of The Italian Opera at the King''s Theatre in the Haymarket, where according to Burney he
introduced new discipline, and a new style of playing, much superior... than the
j languid manner of his predecessor. His purer, less ornamented style was to be
enormously influential, and by 1753 Charles Avison noted that his amazing Rapidity of Execution, and Exuberance of Fancy joined with the most perfect Ease and Gracefulness in the Performance, concur to set him at the Head of his Profession. In the process he made himself a substantial fortune, most of which he apparently lost in various unsuccessful productions at The Italian Opera. In the late 1750s he started a long series of concert tours in the provinces, presumably to earn money.
Giardini was in great demand as a teacher and held important morning concerts for his violin, singing and harpsichord pupils in his house. Between 1777-84, he was music master to the Dukes of Gloucester and Cumberland. He took part in the Bach-Abel concerts at Hanover Square and also appeared in the provinces taking charge of the orchestra for the Three Choirs Festival from 1770-6. From 1774-9, he often led the orchestra at the Pantheon concerts in Oxford Street. He was a governor of the Foundling Hospital, ran concerts there and with Burney planned the setting up of a music academy in the same establishment. By this time, he was composing a great deal - overtures, violin concertos and sonatas, keyboard works, as well as Italian airs and duets - his most successful composition being an English oratorio, Ruth (1773), in collaboration with Charles Avison.
However, despite these achievements, he appears to have grown embittered and quarrelsome, and spoke well of few (not even Haydn on his first visit to London). In 1784 challenged by younger virtuosi and plagued by ill-health he returned to Italy. He lived in Naples at the home of the Hon. William Hamilton, who had been one of his first violin pupils in London. In 1790 Giardini attempted to return to the English operatic scene but was poorly received by critics and public alike. Some years later he left with his company for Russia. He arrived in St. Petersburg at the beginning of 1796 and shortly after died in Moscow, in great poverty.
Giardini sat to both Reynolds and Gainsborough in the early 1760s, at the height of his fame. Sittings to Reynolds are recorded in the artist''s Sitter Book on 21, 25, 28 July and 4, 11 August 1760, all at 11 o''clock. It was from these sittings that this startling virtuoso''s head sketch was produced. Giardini had a single appointment with Reynolds, some five years earlier on 4 November 1755, but nothing appears to have come of it. It is not clear whether the sketch of 1760 was intended as a study for a larger composition or as a complete entity, for no other portrait of the sitter appears to have been produced. However, a portrait drawing of Giardini in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, which has been attributed to Reynolds'' circle, indicates that a larger
composition was at some point proposed. The drawing, possibly by Reynolds or a member of his studio, shows the musician half-length, turned slightly to the left and holding a violin bow in his right hand. A musical score is indicated at the lower left hand corner of the composition. The angle and drawing of the head relates closely to the oil sketch. This would perhaps suggest that the original intention was that this ad-vivum head sketch was to be used by the artist as the basis for a more fully resolved composition.
Nicholas Penny has suggested that Giardini''s sittings to Reynolds may be connected to
the portrait of the Contessa della Rena.0 La Rena was the wife of a Florentine wine merchant, who became mistress of various members of the English aristocracy. By 1759 she was in England under the protection of William Douglas, Earl of March, a notorious rake whose main interests were horse-racing, dancing girls and opera. In the last of these, March and his mistress would have come into contact with Giardini, whose forays into production of the Italian opera was noted previously. La Rena sat to Reynolds over a period of months from July 1759 to September 1761. In the resulting portrait, she is depicted holding an open folio of music, which is inscribed at the top of the page, Dal Sig. Giardini. In a letter of 1766, writing to his close friend George Selwyn, March refers to Giardini as an enthusiasm he shares with La Rena.
Could the head sketch have been intended as the starting point for an unexecuted companion piece to the portraits of March (who sat to Reynolds in 1759) and his mistress, the Contessa della Rena? The pose of Giardini as proposed in the composition of the Ashmolean drawing, would certainly compliment that of La Rena.
This portrait of Giardini was engraved in mezzotint by Samuel William Reynolds, of which apparently two states exist. The first (11 1/2 x 9 5/8 inches), is an unfinished proof before the plate was cut. The second is a reduced image (7 3/4 x 5 1/4 inches), which is inscribed, From a sketch by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Felice Giardini. The fact that it was engraved indicates that as a sketch it was prized.
Graves and Cronin record the picture as having formerly been in the possession of the dealer, William Cox.1U It then subsequently belonged to John Green, a collector of musical, literary and dramatic portraits. It was sold by him at Christie''s on 22 July 1871 as lot 108, where it was bought by a Mr.Thomas.
It has long been accepted that Gainsborough attempted to match the quality of music in his works, particularly in portraits of musicians. Similarly, Reynolds has used his painterly technique to amplify Giardini as a musical virtuoso. The spontaneity and brilliance of this sketch compliments the same qualities in its subject, and provides reason for Reynolds'' uncharacteristic decision to deem a sketch a finished work. To have completed it further may have muted some of its manifest genius: a manifest genius which, in a musical form, Giardini possessed in abundance.

George Birbeck Hill ed., Boswell''s Life of Johnson, Oxford 1887, Vol.11, p.225-6.
Charles Burney, General History of Music, 1789, iv, ch 6. Charles Avison, An Essay on Musical Expression, 1753, pp. 119-20. Ellis Waterhouse, Gainsborough, London 1958, No.311, p.70.
Lindsay Stainton, Gainsborough and his musical friends, Exhibition Catalogue, The Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, 5 May-5 June 1977, No.3.
Manuscript of Reynolds'' Sitters Book for 1760; photocopy in National Portrait Gallery Heinz Archive.
Ellis Waterhouse, Reynolds''s Sitter Book for 1755, The Walpole Society, XLV, 1966-8, p. 136 + p. 150.
David B. Brown, The Earlier British Drawings, Vol.IV of The Catalogue of the Collection of Drawings in theAshmolean Museum, Oxford 1982, pp.520.
Nicholas Penny ed., Reynolds, Exhibition Catalogue, Royal Academy of Arts, London 1986 No.43, pp.207-8.
Alfred Whitman, Samuel William Reynolds, London 1903, No.Ill, p.48.
A. Graves & W.V. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1899, Vol.1, p.358.
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