The Pleasure of Objects: The Ian & Carolina Irving Collection

The Pleasure of Objects: The Ian & Carolina Irving Collection

View full screen - View 1 of Lot 102. Sixteen Portraits.

Thomas Frye

Sixteen Portraits

Auction Closed

January 30, 06:14 PM GMT


25,000 - 35,000 USD

Lot Details


Thomas Frye

c. 1710 - 1762

Life-Sized Heads, and Ladies, Very Elegantly Attired in the Fashion: Sixteen Portraits

mezzotints on laid paper

plates approx.: 19⅞ by 14 in. (50.5 by 35.8 mm. cm.)

published circa 1760


(16 prints)

John Chaloner Smith, British Mezzotinto Portraits; Being a Descriptive Catalogue of these Engravings from the Introduction of the Art to the Early Part of the Present Century, London 1884, pp. 518-522, nos. 6, 9-14, 16, 17, 19, 20-25

The present lot comprises an impressive selection of mezzotints from the artist's two most celebrated series. Included in the group is a self-portrait of Frye himself (Chalenor 6), pen in hand as he leans gently upon a drawing board. According to Chalenor, the identities of the remaining subjects are unknown. With respect to the Life-sized Heads series, he states, "These prints were mentioned as portraits, but the personages are not stated... From examination, it would seem likely that the first set of twelve were drawn from persons sitting as models, probably some of the painter's own family and acquaintance, and that the second set of six were elaborated afterwards from sketches taken at the theatre" (Chalenor p. 519).


Six of the prints are from the artist’s elaborately titled second series, "Ladies, very elegantly attired in the fashion, and in the most agreeable attitudes." Frye captures various female subjects adorned in handsome garb and opulent jewelry, suggesting his interest in costume and luxury. Together, the portraits offer a glance into the grandeur of 18th century portraiture and Frye’s tact as an engraver.

He came to London as a portrait painter when aged around 20 and invented and patented a recipe for the making of porcelain and established the Bow Porcelain Factory producing the first porcelain in England. However, after some fifteen years at the factory, the toxic fumes made him ill, forcing him to retire and return to portraiture and the publication of his prints. An exhibition of 'Thomas Frye's Fancy Heads', published in two series in 1760 and 1761, was held at the National Portrait Gallery in 2007. Reading the curator's introduction we learn that Frye was a true entrepreneur, advertising his series of prints in the London newspapers as elegant decoration for a room, 'they were very high quality, were expensive and sold as a limited edition'. They were aimed directly at the top-end of the market for 'fancy' prints.