Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840), 1849 

Sir Edwin Henry Landseer (1802-73)

Portrait of Niccolo Paganini (1782-1840), 1849, Sir Edwin Henry Landseer
Pen and ink and wash, paper
19th Century
10 3/4 x 8 3/8 in (272 x 213 mm)
The Countess of Blessington; her sale: London, Gore House, May 7 - 26 1849, lot 1181; bought Colnaghi Sir Hope Grant, G.C.B. Collection of Sir George Frampton (1860 - 1928) The Parker Gallery, London A.H. Price, London; thence by descent
Algernon Graves, The Works of the Late Edwin Landseer, R.A., (London, 1876), no. 284
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This portrait of the acclaimed violinist Nicolo Paganini was the model for a privately circulated edition of twenty lithographs. It remains one of the most celebrated images of the performer. The drawing derives from a study made by Landseer in 1831, after attending a musical evening given by Marguerite, Countess Blessington, whose salon attracted writers, musicians and artists (1).

Landseer executed the initial sketch of Paganini from memory shortly after seeing the maestro play. He then worked up this more finished drawing from which a print could be made, the drawing itself remaining in the Countess's collection until her death in 1849.

Between 1810 and 1828 Paganini's extraordinary reputation as a violinist spread internationally. On 3 June 1831 he gave his London debut performance at the King's Theatre. Contemporaries of the musician remarked on his mesmerising performances, extravagant movements and the agility of his hands. A study by Landseer of the violinist bowing is at the Manchester City Art Gallery (2).

Landseer himself was enjoying considerable success in the 1830''s. At the begining of the decade he attracted the attention of the future Queen Victoria and began to be patronised by courtly circles. In 1850, having given the Queen private instruction of drawing techinque, Landseer was knighted. As the most popular artist of the generation he was offered the presidency of the Royal Academy, but declined. Landseer died at his home in 1873 and is buried in St. Paul's Cathedral.

(1) This drawing is in the Manchester City Art gallery, inv. no. 1945.181; see Philadephia Museum of Art (Philadelphia), and The Tate Gallery (London), Sir Edwin Landseer, exh. cat., October 1981 - April 1982, pp. 133 - 4, fig. 83 (catalogue by Richard Ormond).
(2) Inv. no. 1945.182.
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