Display | Jonathan Richardson by Himself

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on July 30, 2015

Now on view at The Courtauld:

Jonathan Richardson by Himself   
The Courtauld Gallery, London, 24 June — 20 September 2015

Curated by Susan Owens


Jonathan Richardson, Self-Portrait, ca. 1738 (London: The Courtauld Gallery)

Jonathan Richardson the Elder (1667–1745) was one of the most influential figures in the visual arts of 18th-century England. A leading portrait painter, Richardson was also a theorist and an accomplished poet and amassed one of the great collections of drawings of the age.

Towards the end of his life Richardson created a remarkable but little known series of self-portrait drawings. They show Richardson adopting a wide range of poses, guises and dress, in some cases deliberately evoking other artists, such as Rembrandt, whose work he owned. These remarkable drawings show Richardson considering and making visual the different aspects of himself. But much more than this, they were the means with which he reviewed his life and achievements.

Emma Crichton-Miller provides a review of the exhibition for Apollo Magazine’s Muse Room (27 July 2015). . .

Richardson’s habit of self-portraiture, charting his declining physical appearance, was married over a decade to a discipline of almost daily poems, where he examined his state of mind. Indeed as interesting as the images themselves is the intellectual and philosophical hinterland they suggest, which drove this self-made man, an admirer of Milton, who apparently turned down royal patronage, to pursue this humanist practice. . .

The full review is available here»

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From Paul Holberton:

Susan Owens, Jonathan Richardson By Himself (London: Paul Holberton, 2015), 64 pages, ISBN: 978-1907372841, £13.

Jonathan Richardson (1667–1745) was one of 18th-century England’s most significant cultural figures. A leading portrait painter and influential art theorist, he also amassed one of the period’s greatest collections of drawings. But there was another, highly unusual dimension to his pursuits. In 1728, at the age of 61 and shortly before his retirement from professional life, Richardson began to create a remarkable series of self-portrait drawings. Not intended for public display, these works were unguarded explorations of his own character.

51pjG4CG2sL._SX496_BO1,204,203,200_In one of the most astonishing projects of self-examination ever undertaken by an artist, for over a decade Richardson repeatedly drew his own face. His self-portrait drawings are usually dated precisely, and they document, from month to month, his changing state of mind as much as his appearance. Many were drawn in chalks on large sheets of blue paper, from his reflection in the mirror. Some of these are bold and psychologically penetrating, while others, in which he regards his ageing features with gentle but unflinching scrutiny, are deeply touching. A further group of self-portraits is drawn with graphite on small sheets of fine vellum, and in these Richardson often presents himself in inventive and humorous ways, such as in profile, all’antica, as though on the face of a coin or medal; or crowned with bays, like a celebrated poet. Sometimes, too, he copies his image from oil paintings made decades earlier, in order to recall his appearance as a younger man. In this extraordinary series of self-portraits, Richardson offers a candid insight into his mind and personality. Together, these drawings create nothing less than a unique and compelling visual autobiography.

This publication—which accompanies the first ever exhibition devoted to Richardson’s self-portrait drawings, held in the new Gilbert and Ildiko Butler Drawings Gallery at the Courtauld—tells the story of these remarkable works and puts them into the context of his other activities at this period of his life, in particular the self-searching poems he wrote during the same years and often on the same days as he made the drawings. An introductory essay is followed by focused discussions of each work in the exhibition. This part of the book explores the materials and techniques Richardson used, whether working in chalks on a large scale or creating exquisitely refined drawings on vellum. It will also reveal how Richardson modeled some of his portraits on old master prints and drawings, including works in his own collection by Rembrandt and Bernini. The publication brings together the Courtauld Gallery’s fine collection of Richardson’s drawings with key works in the British Museum, the National Portrait Gallery and the Fitzwilliam Museum.

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