Exhibition catalogue text

Catalogue entry from British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection


31a Four Heads ?after 1782

Pen and brown ink over pencil on laid paper 7.8 x 16.1 (3 1/8 x 6 3/8) (cropped corners)


31b 'And Who Are You' ?after 1782

Pen and brown ink over pencil on laid paper 12.4 x 15.9 (4 7/8 x 6 1/4)
Inscribed in brown ink bottom left edge 'And who are you?'


In 1776 Dance exhibited at the Royal Academy for the last time as a professional artist. The picture which he showed was the Death of Mark Anthony (Goodreau 1977, no.38), and it must have been this work which a young Russian student, G.I. Skorodumov, had in mind in 1777 when he listed Dance among the top English artists of the time. None the less, Dance continued to paint portraits, though with his retirement to the country in 1782 he exhibited only three more times at the Academy as an 'honorary exhibitor' - an expression commonly used to describe an amateur. Although not strictly speaking an 'amateur', the principal output of his later years was very much of a type associated with amateurs - for example, Henry Bunbury (see no.53) - caricature. This was, of course, a natural extension of portraiture, and the studies of heads shown in these two brilliantly handled pen and ink sketches betray the serious portraitist's interest in physiognomy combined with an interest in the ludicrous which was not, naturally, admitted into the world of the formal portrait.

For various reasons Dance himself became the butt of a few jokes in the art world and was thus well qualified to turn the tables gently on the rest of humanity. His brother, George (no.41), described him as one who 'had very strong affections' (Farington, vol.11, p.4038) which came to the fore in his 'passionate love' for the artist Angelica Kauffman while in Italy. In a nice neo-classical gloss on modern manners the satirist and gadfly of the artists' profession Anthony Pasquin had Dance 'sighing at her feet' (Pasquin 1796, p.113) and the pair of them rambling 'to Tivoli and its classic bowers', Nathaniel pleading 'with the rapture of a Tibullus' while Angelica, 'the elegant nymph, delicately cherished his desires' (Pasquin 1796, p.42). Angelica later rebuffed Nathaniel and turned her attentions to Sir Joshua Reynolds, and Dance ridiculed them in drawing (Penny 1986, no.170). Years later Nathaniel Dance's association with a rich widow, whom he eventually married in 1783, was the subject of amused gossip. He became an MP in 1790, assumed the name Holland, after his wife's cousin, in 1800 and the same year became a baronet.

Both Nathaniel and George Dance were consummate caricaturists and their work is sometimes confused. Although Nathaniel was 'considered a singular man in His manner', his wit is preserved only in drawings such as these. By contrast, the equally observant George once caught in words the essence of his and his brother's view of other men's weaknesses. Thus, summing up John Downman's (see nos.54-6) constitutional slowness he said 'If ... you were to point to a flower, & say, "There is a flower," [Downman] would lift up his eyes & after a pause say ,"Yes it is a flower"' (Farington, vol.8, pp.3029, 3133).

Robin Hamlyn

Published in:
Anne Lyles and Robin Hamlyn, and others, British Watercolours from the Oppé Collection with a Selection of Drawings and Oil Sketches, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery, London 1997, p.98 no.31b, reproduced in colour p.99