Lot 283
  • 283

NATHANIEL DANCE R. A. | Portrait of Joseph Montfort (circa 1735-1776), 'The Provincial Grand Master of and for America'

80,000 - 120,000 USD
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  • Nathaniel Dance
  • Portrait of Joseph Montfort (circa 1735-1776), 'The Provincial Grand Master of and for America'
  • oil on canvas, in a period carved giltwood frame
  • 30 by 25 in.; 76.2 by 63.5 cm.


Probably Sir Josiah John Guest, 1st Baronet, of Dowlais, Glamorgan (1785-1852), Grand Master of South Wales (1836-1848);
Thence by descent to Ivor Bertie Guest, 1st Baron Wimborne (1835-1914), Freemason;
Thence by descent to Ivor Churchill Guest, 1st Viscount Wimborne (1873-1939), Freemason and first cousin of Winston Churchill;
His sale, London, Christie's, 9 March 1923, lot 64, to Collings (as Portrait of a Gentleman, Said to Be Lawrence Sterne, in a green coat and vest);
With Louis Morant, London;
With Kirkham & Hall Gallery, New York;
Private collection, Long Island, New York.


T. Tuohy, A catalogue of the pictures at Canford Manor in the possession of Lord Wimborne, Canford Manor 1888, p. 87, cat. no. 208 (incorrectly catalogued as anonymous artist and as a Portrait of Laurence Sterne);
R. Berman, From Roanoke to Raleigh: Freemasonry in North Carolina, 1730-1800, Oxfordshire 2018, reproduced on the cover.  


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This work has been restored and is in beautiful condition. The canvas is lined, and the surface is attractively preserved. The paint layer is clean and well varnished. Pentimenti original to the artist are visible in the blouse and chest. The very few retouches are accurate and well applied. The work should be hung as is.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This arresting portrait, long obscured by overpaint, is an exciting rediscovery.  The confident execution belongs to Nathaniel Dance, while the sitter, dressed in a bright salmon-colored coat and adorned with elaborate Masonic regalia, is Joseph Montfort, one of the most important Freemasons in American history. Montfort was a wealthy and successful businessman, merchant, and civic official who lived in North Carolinia.  He settled there in 1752, in his mid-twenties, and by the 1760s he had established his prominent Masonic reputation.  He was instrumental in founding the Royal White Hart Lodge in Halifax, North Carolina and also securing its second warrant from the Grand Lodge of England, whose Grand Master from 1767-1772 was Henry Somerset, 5th Duke of Beaufort.  In January 1771, after the death of the Provincial Grand Master for North and South Carolina, Benjamin Smith (1715-1770), the Duke of Beaufort appointed Montfort as Provincial Grand Master of and For America. Montfort’s prestige in this position endures even today in the epitaph on his tombstone at the White Hart Lodge: “The highest masonic official ever reigning on this continent…the first, the last, the only Grand Master of America.

Nathaniel Dance studied under Francis Hayman before setting off in 1754 for Rome, where he worked with Pompeo Batoni from 1762 in the production of Grand Tour portraits.  Dance returned to London in 1765, after which time he painted some of his finest portraits, characterized by vivid palettes and engaging renderings of sitters at leisure.  It was on Montfort’s second trip to England in 1771 that he likely sat for the present portrait, probably upon the recommendation of the Duke of Beaufort, whose son, Charles Somerset, had also recently been painted by Dance.1  However, after the first sitting, contact between Dance and Montfort diminished, as with the latter’s failing health and subsequent death, he never returned to England.  Dance seems to have kept the portrait in his studio, though, later reworking it by adding a simple and elegant green coat so as to increase its commercial appeal (fig. 1).  The painting then descended through various British collections, and was miscatalogued in 1888 as an anonymous portrait of Laurence Sterne.  By the time of its sale in 1924, Dance’s name returned to the portrait, but the erroneous identification of the sitter remained until a recent X-Ray examination and cleaning revealed the the original intention, now once again visible in the present image.  

We are grateful to Dr. Ric Berman for his assistance in the cataloguing of this entry.

1. Oil on canvas, 48 by 58.5 cm., private collection.