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JOHN DOWNMAN, A.R.A. (1749-1824)
  • JOHN DOWNMAN, A.R.A. (1749-1824)


    Signed with initials & indistinctly dated l.r. 177 4(?)

    Black chalk, stumping in pencil & watercolour

    19.6 x 16 cm



    Private collection, Paris





    John Downman was a fashionable portraitist, active both during the height and decline of Georgian taste. He was born in Ruabon, North Wales, the son of the English attorney Francis Downman, and his wife Charlotte, daughter of Francis Goodsend, the private secretary to George I. In 1768, John became a pupil of Sir Benjamin West and, in the following year, joined the Royal Academy Schools. He showed his first portrait at the Academy in 1770 and his first subject painting in 1773, and would exhibit there until 1819. From 1773-4 Downman, by now married, studied in Rome in the company of Joseph Wright of Derby, with a number of his Roman views now in institutional collections including the British Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. 


    By 1777, Downman had moved to Cambridge, from which time many of his portraits of wealthy undergraduates date. Such was his success that he set up a studio the following year in Bedford Street, in the heart of Covent Garden. Between 1779-1804 he lived at increasingly fashionable London addresses, including Bond Street, Jermyn Street and Piccadilly. Downman painted few large-scale oil portraits, although these are elegant and accomplished. His early work is mostly small, oval oil portraits on copper, painted in a manner not dissimilar to Francis Wheatley. It is however for his small, often oval portraits in black chalk and stump, tinted with watercolour, that he is best-known today. The present work is absolutely typical of this style. He drew on very thin paper and painted the flesh tints on the reverse, creating a subtle glow as the watercolour showed through. Downman’s soft, pretty style suited the taste of the age; he drew the foremost beauties of his day, including the Duchess of Devonshire, and was much in demand for his lively, naturalistic portraits of children. His study of classical art in Italy is apparent in his austere, delicate lines and his habit of placing sitters in cameo-like profile.


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