- Museum number
Portrait of George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower, violinist; half-length to right, head in three-quarter profile
Graphite with watercolour
- Production date
- 1795-1800 (circa)
Height: 209 millimetres
Width: 184 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The following text is taken from K. Lloyd and K Sloan, 'The Intimate Portrait', BM and NGS, 2008, no. 167:
George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower was born at Biala in Poland. His exact year of birth is debated but the inscription on his burial place in Kensal Green Cemetery notes he died aged 78 in February 1860. His father, Frederick Augustus, claimed to be of African and European descent and from the English colony of Barbados. He arrived in Europe by the late 1770s and married an Austro-German woman. They had two sons and by 1780 Frederick Augustus was serving as personal page to Prince Esterhazy in Eisenstadt where Franz Joseph Haydn was the Kapellmeister. George Bridgetower described himself as a pupil of Haydn and made his professional debut on the violin in Paris, as a child prodigy, in 1789.
By the summer of 1789 father and son were in London, where Frederick Augustus appeared in flowing robes as an 'African Prince' and, presumably with a letter of introduction, he gave a command performance at the Queen's Lodge. Charlotte Papendiek, assistant keeper of the wardrobe and reader to Queen Charlotte, whose accounts of the English court provide us with much of our information about George Bridgetower, reported that the elder Bridgetower had a 'fascinating manner, elegance, expertness in all languages, and beauty of person.'(cited in Wright, 69). His son performed at the Papendieks' home before leaving for Bath where he appeared in four extremely popular public recitals. The Bath Morning Post reported on December 8, 1789 that: 'The young African Prince, whose talents have been so much celebrated, had a more crowded and splendid concert on Saturday morning than has ever been known in this place.’ (cited in Wright, 73)
Bridgetower was performing in Drury Lane Theatre by February where the eleven year old prodigy caught the attention of the Prince of Wales, an accomplished cellist who gave morning chamber-music parties at Carlton House. The Prince organized a public benefit concert for him and an eight year old Austrian violinist, Franz Joseph Clement, in June 1790. The Prince took Bridgetower under his protection, providing him with instruction and the opportunity to develop his talents. Over the next decade he appeared more selectively, including performances with Haydn in 1792 and 1794 and he became principal violinist in the Prince's orchestra from 1795-1809 and also performed at the Italian Opera at the Haymarket before obtaining leave to visit his mother in Dresden in 1802. He performed there and in Vienna in 1803 where he met Beethoven. The great composer was working on a sonata which Bridgetower became the first violinist to perform. The sonata was to be named after him but he quarrelled with Beethoven who named it after the French violinist Kreutzer instead. He returned to England and took at degree of BMus at Cambridge in 1811 and afterwards taught and composed as well as continuing to perform. He spent a great deal of time abroad, in Rome and Paris, and finally settled in England where he died.
The present drawing of him is apparently the only one to survive from his early years in London. It is the size of a large miniature, and in this and the sketchy finish around the edges but attention paid to the face, it is similar to some of Cosway's drawings of celebrities, such as Mrs Jordan [6.31]. The result is a focus on Bridgetower's celebrity as a black child prodigy, rather than on his skills at the violin. It appears from his age in the portrait to date from his first years in England, around 1790, which would fit with Edridge's style at this period when he was moving from miniature to larger pencil portraits.
Binyon considers the signature "G Fossey 1837" in the bottom left corner to belong to a previous owner.
SELECTED LITERATURE: L.Binyon, 'Cat. of British Drawings in the BM', Edridge, no. 33; J.R.B. Wright, 'George Polgreen Bridgetower: an African Prodigy in England 1789-99', Musical Quarterly, vol. LXVI, no. 1, pp. 65-82, 1980 [JSTOR, 11 Dec. 2007); W.B. Squire, rev. D.J.Golby, 'George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower', Oxford DNB [3398, accessed 26 Nov. 2007]; J. Marsh, ed., 'Black Victorians', Manchester CAG, 2005, no. 41
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1993/4 Nov-May, Museum of London, 'Peopling of London' (no cat.)
1997 Jan-May, London, National Portrait Gallery, 'Ignatius Sancho', no.
1997 Oct-Nov, London, Greenwich Borough Mus, 'Ignatius Sancho', no.
2005/6 Oct-Jan, Manchester Art Gallery, 'Black Victorians', no.41
2006 Jan-April, Birmingham City Art Gallery, 'Black Victorians', no.41
2008/9 Oct-Jan, Edinburgh, SNPG, 'Intimate Face: Portrait Drawing'
2009 Mar-May, London, BM, Room 90, 'Intimate Face: Portrait Drawing'
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number