Enfilade

Cleveland Acquires Wright’s Portrait of Charles Heathcote

Posted in museums by Editor on October 2, 2017

From the museum’s press release (27 September 2017). . .

Joseph Wright of Derby, Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote, ca. 1771–72; oil on canvas, 50 × 40 inches (The Cleveland Museum of Art).

The Cleveland Museum of Art’s recent acquisitions include a portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote by British artist Joseph Wright of Derby; a drawing by German Expressionist Oskar Kokoschka; a 14th-century Japanese hanging scroll featuring the Buddhist deity Aizen Myōō, Wisdom King of Passion; and a monumental oil painting on canvas by contemporary Chinese artist Liu Wei.

Often described as among the artist’s most successful and appealing portraits, Joseph Wright of Derby’s Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote is one of a limited group of small-scale likenesses made in the early 1770s, depicting the figures at full length in a landscape setting. The subject, Charles Heathcote, of Derby, joined the army in 1745 at the age of 15 and rose through the ranks. At the time of his retirement in 1772, Heathcote was a Lieutenant-Colonel in the 35th Foot (Royal Sussex).

The figure is painted in a relatively soft and smooth technique: facial features are carefully characterized and minute attention paid to rendering details of costume. However, the landscape is painted in a more energetic, almost impressionistic, technique. Indeed, Wright gave the landscape as much personality and presence as he did Heathcote himself. The group of small-scale portraits to which the Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote belongs mark the beginnings of Wright’s interest in landscape painting.

This innovative approach to combining figure and landscape was not particularly well received by critics at the time, who were more accustomed to portraits entirely dominated by a figure alone. When viewed close up, the variance in technique can seem jarring, but when viewed from the intended few steps away, Wright’s radical approach results in a compelling image of an elegant figure in verdant natural surroundings. Wright painted the landscape in bold, broad brushstrokes that call attention to artistic process in a way that seems dazzlingly modern for a painting executed in 1771–72.

Joseph Wright’s Portrait of Colonel Charles Heathcote makes a striking addition to the museum’s display of eighteenth-century British art. It complements and offers a counterpoint to the full-length, life-sized Grand Manner portraits by Thomas Gainsborough, Thomas Lawrence, and Joshua Reynolds in the collection. . .

The full press release is available here»

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