Catalogue entry

Nathaniel Hone 1718–1784

T00938 Sketch for ‘The Conjuror’ 1775

Inscribed ‘NHone pt 1775’, incised b.l.
Oil on panel, 22¿ x 32 5/16 (65.25 x 82).
Purchased from Senor Florindo Ferreira dos Santos (Grant-in-Aid) 1967.
Coll: ? the artist’s family; found in the interior of Brazil by Theodoro Leopoldo Mellinger and sold 1967 to Florinda Ferreira dos Santos, Portugal.
Lit: Frances A Gerard, Angelica Kauffmann, 1892, pp. 151–7; John Thomas Smith (ed. Wilfred Whitten), Nollekens and his Times, 1920, I, pp. 118–127; Lady Victoria Manners and G C Williamson, Angelica Kauffmann, R.A., 1924, pp. 42–5; William T Whitley, Artists and their Friends in England 1700–1799, 1928, II, pp. 265–8; A N L Munby, ‘Letters of British Artists of the XVIIIth and XIXth Centuries - Part I’, in Connoisseur, CXVIII, 1946, pp. 24–6; A N L Munby, ‘Nathaniel Hone’s “Conjuror” ’, in Connoisseur, CXX, 1947, pp. 82–4; Adeline Hartcup, Angelica, 1954, pp. 100–9; Sidney C Hutchison, The History of the Royal Academy, 1968, pp. 58–9.

This is the sketch for the larger painting in oil on canvas, 56¿ x 68¿, now in the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin (repr. Connoisseur, CXX, 1947, p. 83, Hartcup, op. cit., facing p. 101 and Hutchison, op. cit., pl. 15). This was submitted for exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1775 but excluded following representations by Angelica Kauffmann that it depicted her in the nude. Hone then made the picture the centre of an exhibition of his own works at 70 St Martin’s Lane (55), giving his version of the affair as a preface to the catalogue. The offending figure and its naked companions were painted out and replaced by the group of clothed men drinking at a table now to be seen in the background.

A contemporary account (copy in the Gallery files; see also Whitley, 1928, II, pp. 266–7) states that ‘In the Perspective is a View of St Paul’s, with six Artists at work on it, whose Productions evaporate in Smoke’ (the italics are original; in fact the head and shoulder of a seventh figure can be seen in the Tate’s picture). Angelica Kauffmann, in a letter to Sir William Chambers (reprinted and partly reproduced. Connoisseur, CXVIII, 1946, pp. 24–5), complains of ‘the figure of the Woman siting presenting a trompet’; in the sketch the seated figure, which holds a horn, appears to be bearded while the female with long hair cavorting in black stockings, apparently holding palette and brush, could be taken as playing a trumpet. X-ray photographs of the Dublin picture show naked figures similar to those in the sketch but apparently somewhat differently arranged.

Both Hone in his preface and Angelica Kauffmann in her letter to Chambers imply that Hone’s offer to paint out the offending figure was acceptable to the Academy’s representatives but, as Hone goes on to say, ‘other motives work’d the concluding part, tho’ this was to be the ostensible reason for the extraordinary conduct of rejecting the works of an Academician.‘It is probable that the rejection was in fact occasioned by the painting’s barely concealed attack on Reynolds as a plagiarist of the Old Masters. The engravings represented seem to have been chosen for their relationship to specific pictures by Reynolds (see-Munby in Connoisseur, CXX, 1947, p. 84). Hone drove the point home by painting the figure of the Conjurer from Reynolds’ favourite model, ‘Old George’ White the paviour, who sat for ‘Count Ugolino and his Children in the Dungeon’ and ‘A Captain of the Banditti’ exhibited by Reynolds in 1773 and 1772 respectively, and by basing the composition of the two main figures on the ‘Ugolino’.

The scene in the background refers to the fruitless offer of Reynolds and five fellow artists, including Angelica Kauffmann, to decorate St Paul’s in 1773. It may also allude to the controversy over ‘smoking’ pictures and giving them an Old Masterly appearance with a deep shadowy tonality. This seems to be the point made by the contemporary account quoted above and Hone’s catalogue preface refers to his having painted out all the naked figures ‘as the merit of the picture does not depend upon a few smoked academy figures. ‘ The be-stockinged figure appears to be painting with smoke while the seated bearded figure waving a horn, whose presence is otherwise unexplained among the other figures holding what seem to be palettes, is probably a joint allusion to Fame and Time.

The Tate’s picture, when acquired by Senor Mellinger ‘in the interior of Brazil’ (undated letter of about September 1966) was accompanied by Hone’s commission as a Lieutenant in the 111th Regiment of Foot dated 9 December 1762, the catalogue of Hone’s exhibition of 1775 and the contemporary press-cutting referred to above, and a press-cutting from The Daily Telegraph of 27 July 1929 referring to the sale of a portrait by Hone. These suggest that the picture remained in the possession of the artist’s family until a recent date and was perhaps taken to Brazil by one of them. All the documents are now at the Tate Gallery.

Published in The Tate Gallery Report 1967–1968, London 1968.