- Museum number
Portraits of Henry Collingwood Selby and his wife; whole-length, wife on the left taking her husband's right arm, his left arm outstretched holding his hat, in a landscape
Watercolour, over black chalk (?)
- Production date
- 1790 (Signed and dated.)
Height: 585 millimetres
Width: 488 millimetres (with border)
- Curator's comments
- The following text is from S. Lloyd and K. Sloan, 'The Intimate Portrait' (exh. SNPG & BM, 2008-9), cat. no. 120:
John Downman, originally from North Wales, had trained in London with Benjamin West before leaving for Italy in the company of Joseph Wright of Derby. On his return he settled for a while in Cambridge and Exeter before returning to London and sealing his reputation as one of the most fashionable portraitists of the day in the 1780s. In order to keep up with demand, he left oils and concentrated on his small scale chalk portraits, often in ovals, always showing his sitters in the height of fashion.
Downman exhibited his portraits at the RA but he quarrelled with them frequently over their placing in the annual exhibitions. Because they were classed as drawings, even when several were combined in one frame, they refused to hang them in the Great Room. In the 1790s, perhaps in response, he began to produce larger portraits which Jane Munro has noted were generally 'bolder in execution and more penetrating in their description of personality'.
His technique of drawing in chalk and stump on one side of thin paper and then placing watercolour washes on the verso allowed subtle hints of colour to show through and created an almost three-dimensional effect when backed with white or ivory paper. But fading over the years and discolouration of the paper have diminished the original effect, particularly on the larger portraits as here. Nevertheless, it produced an entirely different result than the works of his competitors in oil, pastel or watercolour or the smaller graphite full-lengths of Edridge or Cosway.
In 1786, Henry Collingwood Selby (1749-1839) of the parish of St Martin in the Fields, gentleman, was appointed 'Clerk of the Peace and General Gaol Delivery of Newgate' by the Duke of Northumberland. A portrait commemorating the occasion, showing the Duke in the Tapestry room at Northumberland House handing the document of his appointment to Selby, identified Selby as 'of Swansfield, Alnwick and Pawston' (attributed to Zoffany, Selby family sale, Sotheby's, London, 15 May 1929, lot 61; bought 9th Duke of Northumberland). Selby, a wealthy landowner, was also steward to the Duke of Northumberland. He purchased an estate near Alnwick where he built Swansfield House to a design by the Newcastle architect John Dobson in 1823 (demolished 1975) He also erected several monuments on his own property and had Dobson design a celtic cross for the village on Holy Island where Selby was the Lord of the Manor. The preparatory record drawing of Mrs Selby dated 1790 is in one of Downman's albums in the British Museum (1967,1014.181; ser. 3, vol.1, no. 20). She was Frances, daughter of Prideaux Wilkie of Doddington and died the year the portrait was drawn, aged twenty-six, presumably when her daughter Frances was born in August 1790.
SELECTED LITERATURE: C. Williamson, ‘John Downman’, London, 1907, p. liv; E.G. Millar MS BM, no. 17; J. Munro, ‘John Downman’, Cambridge 1996
The study for the portrait of Mrs Selby is in Volume 1 of the Third Series of Downman's 'First Sketches of Portraits of distinguished persons' (1967,1014.181.31).
[Information from Millar Catalogue, No 17 (P&D Cc.2.21)]
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2008/9 Oct-Jan, Edinburgh, SNPG, 'The Intimate Portrait', no. 120
2009 Mar-May, London, BM, Room 90, 'The Intimate Portrait', no. 120
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Originally mounted in a contemporary frame.
Millar paid Wheeler £175 for this portrait [From Dr Eric George Millar, Correspondence Concerning drawings by John Downman (181.C.12*)].
Reproduced in the Illustrated London News, 17 August 1942 when in the possession of Wheeler. This was when Millar first became aware of the drawing.
Reproduced in an article in the Burlington Magazine , no.448, July 1940, 'An Old Master Exhibition Arranged for the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool', pp.i-xi. The illustration on p.iii. The exhibition was cancelled due to the war.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number