National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Portrait of a Gentleman Joseph Wright (painter)
British, 1734 - 1797
Portrait of a Gentleman, c. 1770-1773
oil on canvas
overall: 128 x 102 cm (50 3/8 x 40 3/16 in.)
Andrew W. Mellon Collection
1940.1.11
On View
From the Tour: British Conversation Pieces and Portraits of the 1700s
Object 5 of 6

This striking portrait is somewhat unorthodox by eighteenth-century British standards. Important men seldom were shown with their arms crossed over their chests, because that gesture denoted casual nonchalance. Here, the informal pose is linked to a setting of the most formal pretensions—a massive boulder and stormy sky—normally used to signify a military commander in the midst of battle. This extraordinary combination of relaxation amid grandeur may someday help identify the sitter.

The painting's earliest record dates only to 1916, when it was sold from an aristocratic Derbyshire estate as the likeness of an ancestor "who was a famous admiral." This claim may be inaccurate as this man is not wearing a naval uniform. His elegant tailoring is that of a civilian, and he toys with a walking stick.

The detailed attention to realistic texture, such as the felt tricorn hat, plush velvet lapels, and soft leather gloves, characterize the style and meticulous technique of Joseph Wright of Derby. Wright's Italian Landscape and mythological subject, The Corinthian Maid, are also in the Gallery's collection.

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