We are excited to be showing at TEFAF, which opens next week. As always, we are taking a select group of very beautiful paintings, drawings and sculpture. At the heart of our stand will be a recently rediscovered masterpiece by one of eighteenth-century Europe’s greatest painters. We will be revealing more about this momentous painting on our website over the next week, but first a preview of some of the other exceptional works we are preparing to show in Maastricht.
The Grand Tour was a cultural phenomenon in the eighteenth century that was fuelled, financially at least, by British travellers. By the middle of the eighteenth century the Grand Tour was considered an essential rite of passage for wealthy young Englishmen. Rome emerged as the primary focus of the tour; the city in which travellers spent the most time and by 1750 the centre of a formidable infrastructure designed to cater specifically for travellers’ needs. With this emphasis on education, we can see Rome as a kind of ‘invisible academy’, a Continental classroom where young men could be educated in European art, music and taste, but also where they could take the first tentative steps into society, manage money and sow their wild oats.
Rome once more became a center of the arts with Italian painters adapting their practices to appeal to a British audience: the twin British artistic obsessions of portraiture and landscape rose to prominence. We will be showing at TEFAF a portrait by Pompeo Batoni, who is rightly regarded as being responsible for defining the genre of the Grand Tour portrait. The portrait was painted in 1750 at the beginning of Batoni’s career as a portraitist and shows a British sitter leaning against a column, richly dressed in fur and silk and with a landscape and antique building visible in the background. The sitter has recently been identified as Philip Stanhope, the illegitimate son of Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield. The sitter was therefore the recipient of perhaps the most famous set of letters written in the eighteenth century, published in 1774 as Letters to His son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman.
It is difficult for us to appreciate quite how significant Chesterfield’s letters were to an eighteenth-century audience, designed to be a private correspondence, the letters exposed the complex thinking of the Augustan patrician prompting Samuel Johnson to quip that: ‘they teach the morals of a whore, and the manners of a dancing-master.’
Stanhope was recorded in Rome between December 1749 and March 1750, where he was staying on Strada Paolina by Easter 1750 with his tutor, Walter Harte. The present portrait was initially thought to depict a Danish sitter on the basis of a mis-reading of its twentieth-century provenance, but more recently, Sergio Benedetti identified the sitter on the basis of a caricature by Pier Leone Ghezzi. The caricature, in the collection of the Istituto Italiano per la Grafica in Rome, shows Stanhope in profile, his exaggerated physiognomy corresponding closely with the features of the sitter in Batoni’s portrait. Both show a high forehead, prominent nose and lips and both are shown wearing their own hair in the style of a fashionable wig. A contemporary observed of Stanhope in Venice that his ‘face is pleasing, his countenance sensible, and his look clever. His figure is at present rather too square; but if he shoots up, which he has matter and years for, he will then be a good size.’
Stanhope certainly had his portrait painted in Rome. In a letter dated 11 January 1750, Lord Chesterfield enthuses about the news from Rome noting that Stanhope’s tutor, Walter Harte had written to tell him: ‘two things that give me great satisfaction: one is that there are very few English at Rome; the other is that you frequent the best foreign companies.’ He goes on to add: ‘I long for your picture, which Mr Harte tells me is now drawing. I want to see your countenance, your air, and even your dress; the better they all three are, the better I am not wise enough to despise any one of them. Your dress, at least, is in your own power.’ Draw in this sense certainly meant paint. In 1750 there were few portraitists patronised by British patrons in Rome and Batoni was certainly the most successful and prominent. This portrait is therefore not only an exquisite example of Batoni’s British portraiture, it also depicts a fascinating sitter who was at the centre of one of the publishing sensations of the eighteenth century.
Maastricht Exhibition & Congress Centre (MECC)
6229 GV Maastricht
+44 (0)20 7734 8686
16-23 March from 11 AM – 7 PM
24 March from 11 AM – 6 PM