Sir Joshua Reynolds P.R.A.
- Sir Joshua Reynolds P.R.A.
Portrait of Charles Blair
- bust-length, wearing a red jacket and vest, with lace jabot
oil on canvas
- 24 1/2 by 18 1/2 in.; 62.2 by 47 cm.
Gerard Phelips of Montacute;
His sale, Christie's London, November 29, 1929, lot 47 (incorrectly as representing Henry Fane, see note);
With Thos. Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London, by whom sold on December 4, 1930, to;
Anonymous sale, Sotheby's London, March 20, 1974, lot 75.
D. Mannings: Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of His Paintings, New Haven and London, 2000, p. 91, cat. no. 184, reproduced fig. 602.
This direct and arresting Portrait of Charles Blair was painted by Reynolds circa 1761/64, most likely as a highly finished study for one of his grandest and most monumental portrait groups, The Hon. Henry Fane with Inigo Jones and Charles Blair (see fig. 1, Metropolitan Museum, New York, inv. 87.16). The finished picture is, in effect, an heroic update by Reynolds of the English conversation piece, modified for a much larger scale. It is compositionally rather sophisticated, and a marked departure from any of his earlier group portraits. It is not surprising, therefore, that Reynolds would have used studies and sketches to complete the work, which took him perhaps as long as four years to realize. Reynold's pocket books for the years of 1760-64 are somewhat difficult to interpret, exacerbated by the fact that the book for 1763 is missing entirely. There are numerous references to Mssrs. Fane and Jones over these years, again complicated by the fact that Reynolds was painting Henry Fane's father Thomas, later 8th Earl of Westmoreland. Appointments for these same years for both a Mr. and a Capt. Blair exist; as Mannings points out, these are likely both to refer to Charles Blair, although this cannot be certain. Sittings and notes regarding Blair run from September 19, 1761 and into 1762. With the ledger for 1763 missing, there are two appointments in March and May of 1764. The present portrait, no doubt painted early on during one of these sittings, was used by Reynolds as a compositional aide and was later finished off either by the artist or a colleague as an independent portrait.
Charles Blair had come from a Dorset family whose considerable wealth was derived from sugar plantations and the slave trade in Jamaica. He married the daughter of Thomas, 8th Earl of Westmorland (thus becoming the brother-in-law of Henry Fane). The Blair family's fortunes, however, did not survive into the 19th Century as robustly as before, although his direct descendant was the writer George Orwell (born Eric Blair).