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GEORGE KNAPTON, R.A. (1698-1768)
  • GEORGE KNAPTON, R.A. (1698-1768)

    Pastels on paper
    55.8 x 40.7 cm


    Dr Robert Hemphill;
    By whom sold, Christie's, London, 12.11.1991, Lot 18 [where sold for £1,500];

    Private Collection, U.K.


    N. Jeffares, Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800, online edition, J.432.172




    William Napier was the son of Sir William Scott, 2nd Baronet of Thirlestane (c.1670-1725), a Scottish lawyer and landowner. William went on to succeed his father as the 7th Lord Napier. Napier entered the army in 1747 and attained the rank of major in the Scots Greys in 1770, but he was obliged to sell his commission in 1773 due to ill health. He was then appointed Deputy Adjutant-General of forces in Scotland, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, a commission which he held until his death in Edinburgh on 2 January 1775. Napier married Mary Anne Cathcart (1727-1774), fourth daughter of Charles Cathcart, 8th Lord Cathcart, on 16 December 1754, and they had a son and four daughters. Lady Napier died in Edinburgh on 11 July 1774. William achieved the title Lord Napier of Merchistoun in 1773, two years before his death, at which point it passed to his son, Francis (1758-1823).



    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.


    In 1750, George Vertue asked Knapton to compile a catalogue of the Royal Collection, and Knapton was later (in 1765) appointed Surveyor and Keeper of the King’s Pictures. Together with Arthur Pond, another prominent pastellist who transitioned to oils, the pair created a series of engravings of the most celebrated paintings in the Collection.



    Knapton taught several artists, including Francis Cotes, and Neil Jeffares has suggested that Cotes’ ascendancy in popularity may have had something to do with his teacher’s move to oil-painting. Dr Jeffares has written, “Widespread confusion persists in the attributions of pastels between Knapton, Hoare and Cotes, while the styles of Knapton and Pond may be even closer...Both showed a French level of refinement, Knapton more consistently, and with a deeper sense of volume, than Pond.” (eadem)

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