manner of Sir Joshua Reynolds

A Young Black (?Francis Barber)

Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 756 x 879 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Alan Evans 1974
Reference
T01892

Display caption

This is a version of an unfinished picture now in the Menil Foundation Collection, Houston. The existence of many versions of this work can be explained by the fact that Sir Joshua Reynolds encouraged his students to copy it. The sitter is thought to be Francis (Frank) Barber, the servant of Dr Johnson. Johnson held Barber in high esteem, flouting convention by educating him and making him his principal heir. Here, Reynolds has dignified the sitter, posing him in the manner usually preserved for an aristocratic white man. The original version was probably painted in the 1770s, a period at which the slave trade was still in operation in America and Europe's colonies.

Gallery label, December 1999

Catalogue entry

T01892 A Negro, said to be Sir Joshua's Black Servant

Not inscribed

Oil on canvas, 29 ¾ X34 5/8 (76.2X63.2)

Bequeathed by Alan Evans to the National Gallery and transferred to the Tate Gallery 1974

Col: ...; Christie's, 20 May 1920 (152), bt. Leggatt, and sold in July 1920 to the Hon. Frederick Wallop; by descent to Alan Evans.

Lit: A. Graves and W. Cronin, A History of the Works of Sir Joshua Reynolds, R.A., 1899, I, p.49; E. K. Waterhouse, Reynolds, 1941, p.55, 57, pl. 104; O. Millar, Later Georgian Pictures in the Royal Collection, 1969, I, pp.l03, 105, II, figs 92, 93

Reynolds' original for this copy (see also Tate N05843 for another copy) is the painting exhibited by Sir George Beaumont at the British Institution in 1813 (140) as 'The Black Servant of Sir Joshua' (kindly communicated by Prof. Sir Ellis Waterhouse in a letter dated 22 January 1976, which also gives the prototype picture's subsequent history: sold to Colnaghi 1902; Jacques Doucet sale, Part II, Paris, 6 June 1912, lot 174, as 'Omiah', bt. Pardinel; Coty sale, Paris, 30 November 1936, lot 28, bt. for the Hon. Mrs. Reginald Fellowes). It is likely that this original was one of the pictures which Reynolds lent to students to copy, or that it was one of the paintings left for copying at the B.I. after the 1813 exhibition. This would account for the large number of recorded copies of this head, often known under the title 'Omai' or, as in the case of T01892, 'Frank Barber, Dr Johnson's Black Servant'.

Reynolds' household did include a black servant (J. Northcote, Life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1818, I, pp.204-6) who was 'pourtrayed in several pictures, particularly in one of the Marquis of Granby, where he holds the horse of that General'. This last, on which Reynolds worked from 1764-6 and which is now in the Ringling Museum, Sarasota (a largely autograph replica is in the Royal Collection) does include the turbaned head of a negro which mayor may not represent the same sitter as T01892. Reynolds' companion picture for the Royal Collection's 'Marquess of Granby', the portrait of 'Count Schaumburg-Lippe' (completed c.1767), also includes a negro head in an attitude distantly reminiscent of T01892, which may be the reason why Graves & Cronin dated this composition and its derivations to 1767.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1974-6: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1978