|Self-portrait: Joseph Highmore (detail)|
The portrait collection includes works by such household names as Van Dyck, Gainsborough and Reynolds, but one of my favourites is Joseph Highmore (1692 – 1780), who is perhaps lesser known today that those luminaries.
|Self-portrait: Joseph Highmore|
His parents disapproved of his artistic leanings and insisted that he become a solicitor, but at the age of 17, he forsook the law and for the next 50 years he devoted himself to painting. In 1762, Highmore abandoned painting, retired to
and took up writing. He published articles on a variety of subjects, including
religion, law and art. He died in 1780 at 88 years of age. Canterbury
In his heyday Highmore was a highly acclaimed portraitist. He is reputed to have captured the face of his subject in a single sitting, never retouching it at a later date. He depicted the texture and colour of fabrics with the precision of a Van Dyck, whose work, together with that of Rubens, he studied when he spent two years in the
|Samuel Booth, Messenger |
of the Order of the Bath
In 1725, he was selected to paint the knights of the Order of the
in full costume. He was also commissioned
to paint Royal portraits, which highlights his high standing among English
In addition to his more formal portraits, Highmore also excelled at "conversation pieces", or small informal group portraits, in the manner of Hogarth, although his work is less boisterous and satirical and more refined than Hogarth's.
|Mr B finds Pamela writing|
In 1744 he painted a series of 12 "conversation piece" illustrations for Samuel
's novel Pamela, the runaway bestseller of its day. Pamela
was the first epistolatory novel: a novel written as a series of letters
and diary entries, a form which became very popular. Richardson
The heroine, Pamela Andrews, is a maid whose master (referred to only as Mr B.) makes unwanted advances towards her. She rejects him until he shows his sincerity by proposing a fair marriage to her. In the second part of the novel, Pamela attempts to accommodate herself to upper-class society and to build a successful relationship with her husband.
The NGV has eight pictures by Joseph Highmore in the collection: the one I like best, is a self-portrait showing Highmore as a professional artist – he is dressed in a blue robe, with a turban taking the place of the wig he would wear on more formal occasions. Through the dramatic lighting he concentrates our attention on his face and the composition leads the eye to his tools of trade, the loaded palette and brushes.
|Miss Susanna Highmore|
Facing this portrait, is a delightful study of his daughter Susanna, holding a miniature of herself. There is also a portrait of his son Anthony, in the rich red velvet and gold brocade.
a family group by Joseph Highmore at the Art Gallery of SA – his wife Susanna,
with the two children. A number of Highmore's works were brought to Adelaide by a
direct descendant of the artist. The NGV acquired most of them – I can't think
why they let the family group slip through their fingers. Australia
|The artist's wife Susanna, with her |
son Anthony and daughter Susanna.
(Art Gallery of South Australia)
However, we mustn't begrudge
Adelaide their one Highmore:
just in the next room, we have Samuel Booth, Messenger of the Order of the , resplendent in his
official robes. The three-quarter length pose is typical of Highmore. The
figure looks down at the viewer from a commanding position. The large white
wig was de rigueur for gentlemen of the era. Bath
The NGV also holds four of the "Pamela" illustrations: Pamela Fainting, Pamela greets her father, Pamela and Mrs Davers and Pamela preparing to go home. The other eight in the series are held in The Tate in
London and in the Fitzwilliam
Museum in . Cambridge