Saturday, July 14, 2007

Portrait painting

The recent (false) story about the official portrait of the Queen taken by American celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz reminds one that a portrait painter faces a very difficult job. It can also be very hard on the sitter who may feel apprehensive about the sitting and what kind of picture will result.

The result may be one which a sitter may not recognise at all or one which he or she may not wish to recognise.

In the 1890s, the English artist George Frederic Watts (1817-1904) presented a number of his portraits of distinguished sitters to The National Portrait Gallery in London as a contribution to "the national history".

Amongst them was one of Cardinal Manning.(below)

Henry Edward Manning
by George Frederic Watts (1817-1904),
oil on canvas, 1882
35 1/2 in. x 27 1/2 in. (902 mm x 699 mm)
Given by George Frederic Watts, 1895
National Portrait Gallery, London

Manning was ordained into the Church of England in 1832, resigned his post in 1850 and, in the following year, entered the Roman Catholic Church.

He became Archbishop of Westminster in 1865 and was made a cardinal ten years later.

For this portrait Watts expanded his usual format, posing the seated Manning in emulation of Renaissance papal portraits.

Manning was not terribly impressed by the result.

In a letter dated 31 October 1881 to the artist, he wrote:

"My dear Mr Watts

If Nature writes a legible hand & Photographers do not tamper with the autograph I am afraid that I am not the mild old gentleman that you would have me believed to be.

Yours very truly
H.E. Cardinal Archbp."

Manning also objected to the redness of his face. He said to one: ‘Tell Mr Watts that he has made me a tippler, and I am a teetotaller!’.

Some other portraits of Manning are in Balliol College, Oxford (below). No doubt Manning was not happy with the results of these sittings.

Henry Edward Manning (1808-1892)
By Charles Goldsborough Anderson
Balliol College, Oxford

Henry Edward Manning (1808-1892)
By Arthur Dampier May
Balliol College, Oxford