GEORGE KNAPTON, R.A. (1698-1768)
PORTRAIT OF THE HON. WILLIAM NAPIER (1730-1775), THREE-QUARTER LENGTH
Pastels on paper laid to canvas
55.8 x 40.7 cm
Dr Robert Hemphill, Bristol;
By whom sold, Christie's, London, 12.11.1991, Lot 18;
Private Collection, U.K.
N. Jeffares, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, online edition, J.432.172
George Knapton was born to a prosperous country family, and was apprenticed to the painter Jonathan Richardson Sr. in 1715, serving an apprenticeship of 5 years with his master. He travelled around Italy between 1725-1732, returning to Britain to become a portrait painter. From the beginning, he worked in both oils and pastels, though it is the former for which he is best remembered today.
Between 1741-1749, Knapton painted a series of 23 portraits of the members of the Society of Dilettanti, of which he himself was also a member. These portraits were executed in oil, though many of the members had also had their likenesses captured in pastels.
There was, during this period, something of a movement away from pastels by the British aristocracy, with some critics decrying it as a lower form of art, and others concerned by its connotations of Francophilia at a time of war with France. Firmly attributed works in pastel by Knapton are therefore comparatively scarce, with the present portrait an outstanding example of his work in the medium.