Gilbert Stuart 1755 - 1828
- Gilbert Stuart
- oil on canvas
Mrs. and Mrs. Massimo Ferragamo
Sotheby's, New York, Private sale
Acquired by the present owner from the above
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Washington, D.C, the National Portrait Gallery, at the National Gallery of Art, Gilbert Stuart, October 2004 - July 2005, no. 8, pp. 42-45, illustrated in color p. 43
Below is an excerpt from the Gilbert Stuart catalogue accompanying the exhibition organized by the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., prepared by Carrie Rebora Baratt.
Gilbert Stuart probably attended Sir Joshua Reynolds's seventh annual discourse on December 10, 1776, before the students of the Royal Academy of Arts. At this lecture, Reynolds extolled the work of Anthony van Dyck, the Dutch painter who enriched the whole of British painting with his magnificent portraits for Charles I, even while he criticized modern painters' understanding of it: "The great variety of excellent portraits with which Van Dyck has enriched this nation, we are not content to admire for their real excellence, but extend our approbation even to the dress which happened to be the fashion of that age. We all very well remember how common it was a few years ago for portraits to be drawn in this fantastick [sic] dress; and this custom is not yet entirely laid aside" (Discourses on Art, Robert Wark, ed., 1975, p. 138). Stuart might have thought himself indifferent to this trend, for slit sleeves, an old-style doublet and a wide lace collar were never seen in any of his works. He came fairly close, though, in his portrait of Master Clarke, a picture filled with all of the hallmarks of contemporary fashionable British portraiture.
The boy was the son of Richard Hall Clarke of Bridwell, Halberton, a village near Riberton, and Agnes Were, a celebrated beauty and heiress of a local Devonshire family. They married in 1774, the same year fire destroyed the family's seventeenth-century ancestral home, which they soon rebuilt as a Georgian house on an improved site with extensive parks and a lake. The Clarkes had two sons, Richard and John, one of whom is the subject of Stuart's portrait. The boy has on a cherry red double-breasted skeleton suit, a one-piece garment with lower front and back flaps worn by boys between about the ages of six, when they were breeched from dresses, and twelve, when they were outfitted in proper version of adult clothing with jackets, waistcoats, and trousers. His wide layered, and ruffle, collar was a transitional embellishment, recalling the flounces of his earlier gowns even after he was dressed to allow such activities as archery. The outfit follows the actual fashion for clothing derived from Van Dyck portraits for use in real life. His long curly locks are part of the same nostalgic fashion for a boy younger than twelve.
Nearly every contemporary portraitist of note made use of a pose with a long bow and arrow against a rural landscape – Reynolds, Nathaniel Dance, Joseph Wright of Derby, Henry Raeburn, among others – and they followed the prior generation – Thomas Hudson, Allan Ramsay, and other mid-century painters who originally popularized it as the time when training in archery was mandatory for upper-class boys. Roger Ascham, a sixteenth-century English humanist and scholar, in his treatise Toxophilus (1545), advocated archery as a form of physical education for young scholars "on account of the manliness of the diversion" and as "an exercise most wholesome, and also a pastime most honest; wherein labor prepareth the body to hardness, and the mind to courageousness" (T. Roberts, The English Bowman, or Tracts on Archery, 1801, pp. 80-81). In the seventeenth century, with endorsements from Charles II, archery became a required course of study and exercise at Westminster, Harrow, Eton, and other superior schools. Some schools dropped the requirement during the mid-eighteenth century, only to reconsider its value in the 1780s.
In composing this portrait, Stuart may have had in mind Wright's portrait entitled Two Young Gentlemen in the Characters of Archers, which hung next to Stuart's portrait of the artist Dominic Serres at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1782. Wright's boys are somewhat older than Master Clarke, and they shoot their bows and arrows; Stuart's child merely holds the gear without any indication that he knows what to do with it. Both pictures feature boys standing against a patch of trees in full green of summer, a mode of theatrical presentation – sharply drawn figures against a fluid landscape – derived from Reynolds. Wright was probably inspired by Reynolds's double portrait of Dudley Alexander Sydney Cosby and John Dyke Acland as archers, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1770. The portrait remained in Reynolds's studio until 1779, refused by the subjects, which would have given Stuart ample occasion to see it. If they were seen together, Stuart's, Wright's, and Reynolds's archers would seem to be a series portraying the development of a British archer, from the learning stages in childhood, to the first athletic trails of youth, to the vigorous physicality and determination of manhood. Stuart's commission from Richard Clarke for a small boy's portrait did not afford the opportunity for the portrayal of dynamic athleticism, although Stuart's Skater of 1782 (National Gallery of Art) demonstrated that he was able to capture such vitality.
Master Clarke stands in the park of his family home, Bridwell, near the butt-field, an earthen mound against which rested the targets for archers, common at schools and in the grandest home parks. Stuart's portrait of this young archer can be seen as promoting "a love for the robust amusements in which our martial ancestors delights, ... [and keeping] alive that spirit of fortitude and patriotism which they bequeathed to us as a heirloom" (George Hansard, The Book of Archery, 1841, p. 69).