Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of David Garrick (1717-79), 1767 

Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA (1723-92)

Portrait of David Garrick (1717-79), 1767, Sir Joshua Reynolds PRA
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Oil on canvas
18th Century
30 x 25 inches
 
Provenance:
Said to have been commissioned from the artist by Bennet Langton (1737-1801) Passed to Caleb Whitefoord (1734-1810); His sale, Christie''s, June 15 1810, Lot.39 (+ one other), bt. Symmons Estate of Sir Gregory Lewin, Christie''s, May 16 1846, Lot.50, bt. Morant Charles Sedelmayer and sold by him to P.A.Cheramy, Paris Cheramy sale, Galerie George Petit, Paris, May 5-7 1908, Lot.98 (illus.) Private Collection, France until 1994
Literature:
A. Graves & V.W.Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds P.RA., 1899, Vol.1, p.349. J.Meier-Graefe & E.Klossowski, La Collection Cheramy, Munich 1908, No.25, p.53. E.Waterhouse, Reynolds, 1941, p.59.
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Portrayed as Kitely, the jealous husband in Ben Johnsons Every man in his humour, 1767 David Garrick, the most famous figure of the eighteenth-century theatre, is here portrayed by Reynolds - his equivalent in the world of art - in the role of Kitely, the obsessively jealous merchant of Ben Jonson''s comedy, Every Man in his Humour. The play was first performed in 1598, and as Garrick would have known, in the production this part was almost certainly played by William Shakespeare. The play was revived and rewritten by Garrick in 1751 and was an immediate success. He last appeared in the part in 1776 and it is the earliest portrait by Reynolds of an actor in a popular role. As a partnership of artist and sitter - the leading portraitist of his era painting the foremost actor, it is a highly significant theatrical document.

Garrick was acutely aware of the value of pictures as advertisements, particularly when they were engraved and during his career sat to every portrait-painter of note in England. However, he appears to have forged a particularly close association with the most celebrated of his day, Sir Joshua Reynolds, who shared many mutual friends and who depicted him on a least six separate occasions.

The moment depicted by Reynolds, as a contemporary engraving informs us, is Act II, Scene I when Kitely resolves to be vigilant of his wife: Yea, every look or glance mine eye ejects I Shall occassion.... The green satin vandyke costume which Garrick wears was an anachronism that was a noted feature of his production of this play. The slashed sleeves and arms of the costume are trimmed with tinsel braid to heighten their dramatic impact.

The prime version has long been considered the picture in the Royal Collection, which was purchased from Edmund Burke''s sale by Lord Yarmouth on behalf of the Prince Regent in 1812. However, this picture is signed and dated 1768 on the reverse. Sittings for Garrick are recorded in the artist''s pocket-book on 17, 20 and 26 May, 3, 7 and 9 June and 10 November 1767. It is therefore quite likely that our picture was the result of the sittings in this year, and that the Royal Collection picture was a second version painted and dated the following year. Pentiments in the costume of our picture add greater weight to this suggestion.

The first of a line of distinguished owners of this portrait seems to be Bennet Langton, a classical scholar celebrated for being a close friend of Samuel Johnson. Johnson, in turn, was Garrick''s early tutor. It was a practice at the period to own portraits of celebrated friends. Langton was at the heart of literary, theatrical and academic London and thereby at the hub of a circle of acquaintances which included -as well as Johnson - Boswell, Reynolds, Goldsmith and Thrale. A member of the Literary Club and Professor of Ancient Literature at the Royal Academy, his ownership of a portrait of Garrick by Reynolds, almost certainly for reasons of respect and regard, bears witness to the closeness enjoyed by this creative and convivial elite in mid-eighteenth century London.
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