We are delighted to be supporting the forthcoming show at the Courtauld Gallery new Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery: Jonathan Richardson by himself. Curated by Susan Owens and accompanied by an important new catalogue, this show will offer a fascinating and rare opportunity to see a concentrated group of self-portrait drawings by one of the most important figures of early eighteenth-century British art: Jonathan Richardson.
Richardson occupies an odd place in British art. Known in his own day principally as a portraitist, his later reputation rests on his activities as a writer – he authored the pioneering Theory of Painting in 1715 and the Two Discourses in 1719 – and as a collector of old master drawings; Richardson’s initials form one of the most familiar collectors’ marks. These two elements have prompted recent investigation by scholars – including Carol Gibson-Wood’s Jonathan Richardson: Art Theorist of the English Enlightenment - whilst Richardson’s portraiture has been almost completely ignored. It is a situation not helped by the status of Richardson’s oeuvre; his name has become an omnium gatherum of portraits by multiple hands of every calibre from the first thirty years of the eighteenth century. His reputation as a painter suffered several severe blows shortly after his death. Horace Walpole noted in his Anecdotes of Painting:
‘No man dived deeper into the inexhaustible stores of Raphael, or was more smitten with the native lustre of Vandyck. Yet though capable of tasting the elevation of the one and the elegance of the other, he could never contrive to see with their eyes, when he was to copy nature himself.’
But in the remarkable series of self-portraits Richardson produced throughout his life, we are afforded an idea of both his powers as a draughtsman and an insight into one of the most extraordinary projects of self-depiction in the period. Susan Owens, in her excellent introductory essay, draws out the context for Richardson’s self-portraiture relating it to his aspirations as a poet and anecdotes about his inclination for periods of meditative introspection. It is clear also, given his collecting, that Richardson must have been conscious of the great series of self-portraits produced by Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Titian and others. This exhibition brings together a sequence of powerful and insightful images which raise questions about Richardson’s powers as a painter and perhaps demand him to be reassessed as more than merely a theorist and collector.
Jonathan Richardson by himself
The Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery Display
24 June - 20 September 2015