Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Mrs Vere 1780s

Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland RA MP, 1st Bart (1735-1811)

Portrait of Mrs Vere, Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland RA MP, 1st Bart
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Oil on canvas
18th Century
50 x 40 inches, 127 x 101.6 cm
 
Provenance:
Mrs King, by whom sold Christies, London, 30th May 1919, lot 137; Bt. Young, 650 guineas; With Legatt, London, 1927; Private collection, Boston USA; With Agnews, London 1960; George Goyder CBE.
Literature:
Exhibition Catalogue, ‘Nathaniel Dance’ 1977.
Exhibited:
Agnew’s Summer Exhibition, 1959, no.36; ‘Nathaniel Dance 1735-1811’, London, Kenwood, 1977, no.43.
Nathaniel Dance trained, like so many of his contemporaries, in Rome, where he studied with Pompeo Batoni. It was probably while under Batoni’s influence that Dance developed the use of the highly pitched colours that became his trademark, in contrast to the more subdued work of his contemporaries in London. Dance initially worked in Rome as a history painter, but soon became known, Walpole noted, as “the celebrated English painter at Rome” . His best portraits were of ‘Grand-Tourers’ such as Augustus, Duke of York (1764, Royal Collection) and David Garrick. It was in Rome too that Dance began his passion for the painter Angelica Kaufman, and where the two apparently determined to marry on their return to London in the 1760s – though sadly the union never occurred, much to Dance’s chagrin.

Once back in London Dance established a successful portrait practice, where he continued to paint the colourful and expressive portraits for which he has become famous. At some point in the 1770s he became financially independent and ceased painting professionally on his election to Parliament in 1790. He also resigned his membership of the Royal Academy, of which he had been a founder member in 1769. He became a Baronet in 1800. In a curious reflection of the relatively low social status of artists in the early nineteenth century, Dance took care to disassociate himself with his artistic past, destroying many works, and exhibiting only the occasional landscape at the Royal Academy (in all cases, as ‘a gentleman’). Dance saw his great talent as a mere trade, and thus the work of Britain’s first neo-classical artist has become less well known that it otherwise should be.

In this portrait one can clearly see the highly coloured Rocco style synonymous with Dance’s work, while the strong and meticulous sense of likeness demonstrates why he is considered Britain’s first neo-classical artist. The vibrant landscape and richness of the sitter’s features comes directly from studying under continental portrait painters, as opposed to the more austere style of Dance’s early British contemporaries. This work was painted relatively late in Dance’s career, in about 1777.
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