This is a fine example of the portrait studies that Jonathan Richardson senior made in the leisure of his retirement. Richardson's career as a portrait painter wound down during the 1730s as he became more involved in personal and literary projects, and in 1740 he announced that he had finally 'given over his Business, and his Continuance in Town being uncertain.' A theme that had long preoccupied Richardson's writings was how to lead a happy and virtuous life. A portrait was more than a flattering image of someone's looks, but was a means of expressing a person's character; portraits could provide an improving moral example for a subject to follow. For Richardson in his final years, making self-portraits and drawings of his immediate family became a form of daily self-examination, which he combined with writing contemplative poetry.
Richardson utilised a range of drawing materials. His most highly finished portraits were drawn in coloured chalks on blue paper, or in graphite on vellum. Often, as here, he made an underdrawing in graphite and drew over it in pen and ink, blocking certain areas out with wash applied by a brush. Other examples of this method of working include a 1735 portrait of an old friend, the anatomist William Cheselden, and another portrait of Richardson junior, circa 1736, both of which are in the British Museum. Sketches such as these were sometimes preparatory studies of which more finished versions also survive, for the portrait of Richardson junior at the British Museum is developed further in a drawing on vellum now in the Courtauld Gallery. While drawing himself and family members regularly, Richardson also drew copies from his own collection of paintings. For example in June 1739 he made three copies of Lely's portrait of Oliver Cromwell in quick succession.
Richardson junior and his father had an extremely close relationship and the son shared his father's interests and temperament. The younger Richardson painted only a little, as his father aimed to provide sufficiently for his son to live as a gentlemen, sending him to study abroad and making him his sole heir rather than dividing his estate between his children. Although Richardson junior sold his father's famous collection of old master drawings in 1747, he retained these family portraits which were finally dispersed in 1772 after his death. Walpole was a purchaser at the sale and remarked that 'there were hundreds of portraits of both [father and son] in chalks by the father, with the dates when executed; for after his retirement from business, the good old man seems to have amused himself with writing a short poem, and drawing his own or son's portrait every day.' The later ink inscription on the drawing presumably relates to the dispersal of Jonathan Richardson junior’s collection, he died in June 1771 and the inscription is dated July of the same year.
- London Daily Post, 12 December 1740.
- Carol Gibson-Wood, Jonathan Richardson Art Theorist of the English Enlightenment, New Haven and London, 2000, pp.128-36.
- British Museum, museum no.1866,0714.17 and museum no.1989,1104.428.
- Courtauld Gallery, museum no.D.1952.RW.1986. Both are reproduced in Susan Owens, Jonathan Richardson by Himself, exh. cat., London (Courtauld Gallery), 2015, pp.68-9. Another pair, from 1734, are reproduced in Carol Gibson-Wood, Jonathan Richardson: Artist of the English Enlightenment, New Haven and London, 2000, p.129.
- British Museum, museum no.1902,0822.26, 27, 30.
- Carol Gibson-Wood, Jonathan Richardson: Artist of the English Enlightenment, New Haven and London, 2000, p.52.
- Carol Gibson-Wood, Jonathan Richardson: Artist of the English Enlightenment, New Haven and London, 2000, pp.54-5.
- Quoted in Carol Gibson-Wood, Jonathan Richardson: Artist of the English Enlightenment, New Haven and London, 2000, p.134. A volume of thirty-six drawings by Richardson senior that Walpole bought in 1772 was acquired by the British Museum in 1902.