Sunday 9 March 2014

Ozias Humphry, Portrait Painter in Crayons to the King

Ozias Humphry (Honiton, Devon, England, 8th September 1742 – London, England, 9th March 1810)

Ozias Humphry by Valentine Green after George Romney, 1772
Ozias Humphry by Valentine Green after George Romney, 1772

Today we meet an artistic gentleman who was born to a lacemaker and a wigmaker and rose to the heights of his field. Friendly with the greatest names in England, Ozias Humphry became one of the most respected painters in England yet an accident in the 1770s would prove a defining moment in his professional life.

When Humphry was 15 he left Devon for London and a position studying art at Shipley's school. From there he trailed to Bath and became apprentice to miniaturist Samuel Collins whilst staying with our old friend, Thomas Linley, a fine billet that introduced him to some of the more fashionable names of England.  Humphry's work was seen and admired by Gainsborough and my own favourite, Sir Joshua Reynolds and when Collins fled England in a hurry to escape his debts, Humphry struck out alone as a miniaturist and built a considerable name for himself in the field, with the demands of work drawing him back to the capital.

Mrs Archibald Hutcheson by Ozias Humphry
Mrs Archibald Hutcheson by Ozias Humphry

Apparently a gentleman of a somewhat changeable and troubled demeanour, Humphry was not without lady friends yet he never married despite more than one particularly strong attachment. Whilst his personal life may not have been eventful of some our salon guests, Humphry's professional achievements were another thing altogether and it seemed as though nothing could stop his ascendancy. Sadly though, fate was to deal a cruel blow to the artist and around the time of Humphry's thirtieth birthday he fell from his horse. The accident resulted in damage to his eyesight that would grown worse as the years drew on and the eventual outcome was a move away from miniatures and into larger studies in pastels and oils.

Gavin Hamilton by Ozias Humphry, 1777
Gavin Hamilton by Ozias Humphry, 1777

In 1773 Humphry and George Romney travelled to Italy where they remained for four years, studying art and anatomy and honing their craft. Upon his return to England, Humphry found himself in even more demand and his skills were officially recognised by his election to the Royal Academy in 1779. By now a man of considerable means, Humphry indulged his wanderlust again in 1785, spending two years in India and when he returned to England this time, it was as a pastellist.

With his popularity and patrons as notable as ever, Humphry was appointed Portrait Painter in Crayons to the King in 1793. Tragically, the celebrated artist was finally rendered blind in 1797 and retired to his London home, where he lived out the remainder of his days as a figure to be admired and respected by his contemporaries and those who aspired to the heights he had reached.

The Rice Portrait, believed to be a painting of Jane Austen as a child, painted by Ozias Humphrey , 1788-90. Attribution of the painting is a matter of ongoing debate and is well-documented!
The Rice Portrait, believed to be a painting of Jane Austen as a child, painted by Ozias Humphry , 1788-90. Attribution of the painting is a matter of ongoing debate and is well-documented!

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Unknown said...

It always strikes me how varied the lives are of these artists and innovators who travel the world so extensively to master their craft. What this post also relevantly highlights is the importance of having a good set of patrons.

Catherine Curzon said...

Indeed, sir; Humphry did occasionally encounter problematic patrons but on the whole was very lucky!

Gem Twitcher said...

It is said,Madame that he had a habitual desire of self importance and was very pernickety!! His travels with Romney to Italy unfortunately ended when the two gentlemen had"strong discourse"with one another! Failure to receive payment in India from the Nawab of Oudh for minatures embittered him for the rest of his life!....and as for his spectacular quarrel with Cosway at an Academy meeting we shall say no more,Madame!

Catherine Curzon said...

Indeed, I can name several of my own circle who would fit that description. Mr Humphry always struck me as a most taciturn sort, but quick to temper and quicker still to the accountant!

Laurel Ann (Austenprose) said...

Thanks for including the Rice portrait. Even with considerable evidence to support this portrait could be Jane Austen, I think the debate will continue until certain scholars in disagreement pass on. There is also the portrait of Austen's elder brother Edward that is believed to be by Humphry too.

Catherine Curzon said...

I do have a blog about the Rice portrait, it fascinates me!

Stephen Barker said...

I assume that a portrait in pastels was cheaper than one done in oil paint, which would no doubt attract many patrons. I have to say I prefer Gainsborough to Reynolds as he was the better draughtsman.

Catherine Curzon said...

It was cheaper but as pastel became fashionable, the different in cost was less marked. I shall always be a fan of Reynolds, he just pips Gainsborough for me.