Lemuel Francis Abbott

Portrait of the Engraver Francesco Bartolozzi

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On loan

Gainsborough’s House (Sudbury, UK): Long loan to Gainsborough's House

Lemuel Francis Abbott 1760–1803
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 756 × 676 mm
frame: 915 × 790 × 70 mm
Presented by Mrs M. Bernard 1968


This highly romanticised portrait depicts the distinguished Italian engraver, Francesco Bartolozzi (1727-1815). In his right hand Bartolozzi holds up an engraving tool, whilst directing his gaze towards the painting which he is presumably copying.

During his lifetime Francesco Bartolozzi enjoyed an international reputation as one of Europe’s finest line and stipple engravers. Born in Florence in 1727, Bartolozzi trained first as a goldsmith with his father, before entering the Florentine art academy. In 1745 he moved to Venice, where he was employed by the engraver and print-seller Joseph Wagner (1706-80). Here he engraved works by contemporary Italian painters as well as by the Old Masters, notably Guercino (1591-1666). Bartolozzi’s engravings after Guercino, which were greatly admired, prompted an invitation to England in 1764 to engrave drawings by that artist in the Royal Collection. In 1768 Bartolozzi was elected a founder member of the Royal Academy. In England Bartolozzi increasingly specialised in stipple engraving, a technique that involved building up an image with thousands of tiny dots to produce a smooth, soft focussed image. His preferred subjects were mythologies and female allegorical figures, often based on the work of Italian Old Masters, as well as contemporary London artists such as of Angelica Kauffman (1741-1807), Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-92), and his close friend and compatriot, Giovanni Battista Cipriani (1727-1785).

By the time Abbott painted the present portrait, probably sometime between the late 1780s and the mid 1790s, Bartolozzi ran a large studio with up to fifty pupils and assistants. As well as history paintings and literary subjects, his professional life was by now engrossed by prints after contemporary British portrait painters, including Richard Cosway (1742-1821), George Romney (1734-1802), and Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88). Gainsborough, who had a high opinion of Bartolozzi’s skill as an engraver, was also keenly aware of his reputation as a womaniser. As he remarked memorably in a letter of 1787: ‘Why will Bartolozzi ... spend his last precious moments f_____g a young Woman, instead of out doing all the World with a Graver; when perhaps all the World can out do Him at the former Work?’ (John Hayes, ed., The Letters of Thomas Gainsborough, New Haven and London 2001, p.168).

Bartolozzi continued to work in London until 1802, when, at the age of seventy-five, he moved to Lisbon, where he became the director of the Academia de Belas Artes. Although no engravings from his time in Portugal are known, his signed prints continued to be published in London.

The painter of the present portrait, Lemuel Francis Abbott, was born in Leicestershire around 1760, although the exact date of his birth is unknown. The son of a clergyman, Abbott apparently received some artistic training under Francis Hayman (c. 1708-76), who, must himself have been well into his sixties by this time. Abbott was working in London by 1784. He exhibited portraits briefly at the Royal Academy between 1788 and 1789. His known portraits, of which that of Admiral Lord Nelson is the most celebrated, are all of men. Aside from Bartolozzi, they include a number of other artists, notably the engraver Valentine Green (1739-1813) and the sculptor, Joseph Nollekens (1737-1823), whom he painted around 1793 posed beside his own celebrated bust of the politician, Charles James Fox (London, National Portrait Gallery). In 1791 Abbott took on Ben Marshall (1767-1835) as his apprentice, although Marshall subsequently made his name as a sporting artist rather than a portraitist. During the later 1790s Abbott’s mental health deteriorated and, in 1798, he was formally declared insane. Even so, a number of works by him were exhibited at the Royal Academy that year and again in 1800.

Further reading:

A.C. Sewter, ‘Some new facts about Lemuel Francis Abbott’, Connoisseur, April 1955, pp.178-83

Martin Postle
June 2001

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Display caption

Bartolozzi was elected a founder member of the Royal Academy in 1768. However, despite being one of Europe’s finest printmakers, he was elected as a painter rather than an engraver. After Bartolozzi’s election, the Academy in fact refused to allow engravers to become full members for eighty years.
The Academicians argued that the work of printmakers was merely mechanical copying. Engravers rejected this argument, and most of them boycotted the Academy. Significantly, the tool that Bartolozzi wields in his right hand is not a paintbrush but the engraver’s tool, known as a burin; to the left is the painting he is working from.

Gallery label, September 2004

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Catalogue entry

Lemuel Francis Abbott 1760–1803
Not inscribed.
Canvas, 29 3/4×26 5/8 (80·5×67·5)
Presented by Mrs M Bernard 1968.
Coll: Mrs M Bernard.

Probably painted towards the end of Bartolozzi's stay in England. He left for Lisbon in 1802 and died there in 1815 at the age of 88. In Abbott's portrait he appears considerably older than in Marcuard's engraving of 1784 after Reynolds' portrait, for which Bartolozzi sat in 1771 and 1773.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery: Acquisitions 1968-9, London 1969

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