Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Commodore George Hookey Walker (d.1777), privateer, c.1760 

Andrea Soldi 

Portrait of Commodore George Hookey Walker (d.1777), privateer, c.1760, Andrea Soldi
Oil on canvas
18th Century
50 x 40 inches
John Ingamells, Andrea Soldi; Part 1 1735-1744: Merrit andIdle Vanitys. The Connoisseur, Vol.185, No.745, March 1974, p. 192, Fig.2. John Ingamells, Andrea Soldi - A Check-list of his Work, The Walpole Society, Vol.XLVII, 1979-80, No.58, p. 15
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It is in fact by the Italian artist Andrea Soldi, who worked in England from about 1736. It shows the compositional ingenuity and technical innovation brought to England from the continent in the later 1730s, and the Italianate flair that breathed new life into an artistic scene still emerging from the sober dominance of Kneller. This newly discovered work – one of Soldi’s first in England – forces us to reconsider both his talent and his impact on English painting.

We know few of Soldi’s biographical details, but can get an idea of the impact he made on his arrival in England by looking at the immediate demand for his work. The art historian George Vertue relates that he began ‘above thirty portraits large and small’ between April and August 1738 alone [Vertue notebooks, vol. III, p.84], with patrons including the Dukes of Manchester and Beaufort, and Viscount Fauconberg. However, Soldi’s success was short-lived – his rapid rise led to a lifestyle of unwarranted profligacy, and in 1744 he landed with a bump in debtor’s prison.

From then on Soldi was unable to retain the momentum of his early success. From the 1740s until the end of his artistic career in the mid 1760s Soldi’s clientele was drawn principally from the middle classes, such as the gardener John Greening [Kentchurch Court]. As a result, Soldi’s later works, constrained by his sitters’ more conservative taste, contain little of the flair seen in the present picture. And, since it is by these later, more numerous pictures that Soldi is generally judged, his reputation has suffered.

Vertue in 1738 referred to Soldi''s “well imitated silks Sattins Velvets'' and this ability to render texture and its effects is apparent in our picture, combined with a theatricality and sophistication that derives from his Italian training and that was to the foundation of his success in London.

This prosperity lasted for a period of some ten years, when living beyond his means resulted in imprisonment for debt. Thereafter his career never fully recovered and the social standing of his sitters declined as other portrait painters came into fashion. He died in London in 1771 and his funeral was paid for by Sir Joshua Reynolds to spare him the indignity of a pauper''s burial.
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