Lot 125 (Maritime and Scientific Models, Instruments & Art (Venerable), 24th November 2020)

JOHN DOWNMAN, A.R.A. (BRITISH, 1750-1824)

Estimate
£8,000 - £12,000
 

Buyer's Premium: 24% (+VAT)


Condition report

Nelson: Time stained; diagonal crack from side to side passing through eyebrow and ear; Emma: Time stained.

We are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of this property. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Charles Miller Ltd is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD “AS IS” IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE.

 

A pair of re-discovered portrait sketches of Lord Nelson & Lady Hamilton, drawn at Merton, 1802

JOHN DOWNMAN, A.R.A. (BRITISH, 1750-1824)

Bust-length portraits of Lord Nelson in uniform; and Lady Emma Hamilton wearing a turban

Pencil heightened with white

Nelson monogrammed and dated 'JD 1802' (mid-left) with indistinct inscription under possibly reading '[M]erton [1]802'

6 x 4¾in. (15 x 12cm.), contained within early 19th century sailorwork giltwood frames carved in relief with polychrome laurel leaves and inscribed on ebonised shield-shaped plaques Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton respectively

(2, a pair)

Provenance: Isabella Benjamin (Downman's only child), believed sold from albums bequeathed to her in 1825 to Admiral W.H. Smyth (1788-1865), his armorial bookplate pasted to reverse of 'Lady Hamilton' and remnant behind 'Lord Nelson'; sold to collector Henry Vaughan (1809-1899), his mss label pasted under bookplate; Private Collection, UK. and thence by descent.

Exhibited: Preparatory sketches for works exhibited at the Royal Academy, 1809, No.324 ('Portraits of a naval Commander and a lady of quality').

Literature: Walker, R: The Nelson Portraits, Royal Naval Museum, 1998, p.147 where a worked up chalk drawing of this sketch may be seen.

John Downman studied under Benjamin West at the Royal Academy before travelling to Italy in 1773 where he may have met Sir William Hamilton. On his return to London he made his reputation as a prolific society portraitist, preferring chalks and pencil as his media. He seems to have visited Merton in 1802 where these unpublished sketches were draughted and subsequently added to his albums - probably series IV volume 5. Downman's method of working was to work up several images from a quick sketch, so the lot offered is quite different to the more 'Byronic' end result viewed in Walker's 'Nelson Portraits' and as such perhaps a more honest and natural image; Emma too is softer and more natural, depicted in a fashionable turban headdress and wearing a pearl necklace. Downman's daughter and only child Isabella inherited his albums at his death. There were four series of these, each containing four to eight volumes, and each volume up to thirty-five drawings of 'Distinguished Persons'. These albums are mainly divided between the British Museum and Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge (where Downman maintained a studio in the 1770s), however, several volumes were sold and their contents dispersed, including Series IV Vol V which contained watercolour and chalk bust-length portraits inscribed Horatio Nelson, 1802 / Admiral Lord Nelson of the Nile, / who conquered foes with wondrous spoil so these drawings may have been removed from the first series of volumes which were sold and dispersed by Isabella Benjamin in 1825. They were a natural purchase for Admiral Smyth and it seems likely it was he who added the ornate but naive frames, probably carved by a sailor. Highly active in London's cultural firmament, he was a member of the Society of Antiquaries, Royal Society and Royal Astronomical Society where he is thought to have met Henry Vaughan. Vaughan was a wealthy heir and eclectic art collector/patron who created a large body of works from Turner (whom he knew); Flaxman; Lawrence and Stothard. When he died, these, along with five more by Michaelangelo and Constable's Hay Wain, were bequeathed to the British Museum, National Gallery, Tate, V&A, and the National Galleries of Scotland and Ireland.

 

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Auction: Maritime and Scientific Models, Instruments & Art (Venerable), 24th November 2020

Mercantile : 1-98

Naval : 101-179

Instruments : 181-295

Printed catalogues available at £20 (+P&P)

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