Joseph Highmore

The Good Samaritan


Not on display

Joseph Highmore 1692–1780
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1595 × 1448 mm
frame: 1710 × 1565 × 70 mm
Presented by C.K. Adams 1955

Display caption

This painting illustrates the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke. The Samaritan has bound the wounds of an injured man attacked by robbers and is helping him to his feet. Heading off into the distance behind them are the priest and the Levite, who have ignored the man’s plight. The painting was made for the aristocrat John Sheppard, possibly for a private chapel in his home at Campsey Ashe in Suffolk. This makes it a comparatively rare example of a sacred subject commissioned from a British artist by an independent patron, outside of the church.

Gallery label, February 2022

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Catalogue entry

T00076 The Good Samaritan 1744

Oil on canvas 1595×1448 (62 3/4×57). Repairs to the top right corner show that the canvas was originally some 18in (457mm) higher Inscribed ‘Jos:Highmore invenit et pinxit. 1744’. b.l.
Presented by C. Kingsley Adams CBE 1955
PROVENANCE Painted for John Sheppard of Campsey Ash, and presumably by descent to J.G. Sheppard of Campsey Ashe High House, Wickham Market, Suffolk; his sale, Garrod, Turner & Son of Ipswich 1–4 October 1883, 3rd day (834) bt R. Edens-Dickens (his letter in The Morning Post, 12 December 1925, stating that he had bought it at the above sale, and giving size wrongly as 1575×1015, 62×40); ...; Isaac J. David & Son, Dover, in 1930s (see correspondence in Gallery files) and after the closure of the business said to have been stored for many years; ...; anon. sale, Knight, Frank & Rutley 30 December 1955 (337) bt in; afterwards bt C.K. Adams
LITERATURE Obituary in Gentleman's Magazine, L, 1780, p.178; W.A. Copinger, The Manors of Suffolk, 1905–11, II, p.233 (for details of Sheppard family); Ralph Edwards, ‘Hogarth into Highmore’, Apollo, XC, 1969, pp.148–51, fig.5; Paulson 1971, II, pp.11, 13; Lewis 1975, I, pp.220–3, 549–50, nos.266, 267, II, p.592, no.97, pp.654–5, no.45, III, figs.168, 276

This is Highmore's earliest known attempt at large-scale subject painting. The obituary of 1780, written by Highmore's son-in-law, the Revd John Duncombe, singled out ‘The Good Samaritan, painted for Mr Shepherd, of Campsey Ash’ as one of his most important works ‘in the historical branch’. Until recently, however, it was not clear whether this was the Tate Gallery painting, or another version, perhaps resembling the picture in the background of his ‘Mr B Finds Pamela Writing’ (N03573). The 1883 Sheppard sale catalogue (only known copy at the Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich Branch, Ref. SC 088/4) proves, however, that it must have been T00076which was commissioned by the then owner of Campsey Ash High House, John Sheppard (d.s.p. 1747), in whose family it remained until the 1883 sale. Although unattributed, lot 834, ‘The Good Samaritan, 5ft. 2in. by 4ft. 8in’. (dimensions being expressly given exclusive of the frame, height before width), tallies almost exactly with the present size of no.24. An old, presumably pre-1883, repair in the upper right-hand corner, where a missing part has been filled in with a piece taken from the cut-down section of the same painted canvas, shows that the composition was originally possibly nearly 457mm (18in) taller. It is interesting to note that the next lot in the sale, likewise hung in ‘The Vestibule’, was (also unattributed) ‘835 - pair - Hope and Charity, 6ft. 4in. by 3ft. 4in.’. This matches the original height of no.24, and raises the possibility that Highmore may have painted a set of three pictures, of which the side panels have been lost. The High House under discussion (now demolished) was a nineteenth-century building by Salvin, and the painting (or paintings) may have been originally commissioned for a private chapel which fell victim to later rebuilding.

The Highmore scrapbook (T04213) includes an undated pencil sketch by him which is a very free interpretation of Hogarth's huge ‘Good Samaritan’ painted in 1737 for the staircase of St Bartholomew's Hospital, where it is still in situ. Much has been made in the past (notably by Edwards and Paulson) of this ‘indebtedness’, but it should be borne in mind that the subject was a popular one with painters of the older European schools, and engravings of these could have been found in any artist's collection. Highmore's ultimate composition has as much in common with Hogarth's as both have with Coornhert's engravings after Maerten van Heemskerck's ‘Good Samaritan’ series of 1545, to name just one of many examples. An artist as bookish and devout as Highmore could also have been aware of the many lavishly illustrated Bibles of the seventeenth century: the device of the linked hands of victim and helper can be found, for instance, with certain other parallels, in the German Strassbourg bible of 1630, illustrated by Matthew Merian. While it would have been natural for Highmore to start out on his commission with a study of the only accessible large-scale work on the theme, he took pains to develop it in a different way, and the emphatic ‘invenit’ of his signature suggests that he was aware of possible accusations of plagiarism.

The presence - for no obvious reason, as it is nowhere alluded to in Richardson's text - of a completely different arrangement of the subject in the background of the above-mentioned illustration to ‘Pamela’ (on which he was working at about the same time as the ‘Samaritan’) could, in view of the series' predictably wide circulation and popularity, be a subtle attempt to forestall any such possible accusations of a lack of invention on his part. As he was in many ways in competition with the notoriously prickly Hogarth himself, this would have been a wise precaution.

The almost universal study among artists of the Torso Belvedere as a model for posing the male nude figure could also account for a certain family resemblance between Hogarth's and Highmore's paintings. There is a detailed drawing of it in an unpublished drawing book of studies after the antique, almost certainly attributable to Highmore, until recently in the Sir Anthony Highmore King collection (Lewis 1975, p.247, no.13) and now in the Tate, and Hogarth wrote that small copies of ‘that famous trunk of a body [were] to be had at almost every plaster-figure makers’ (Analysis of Beauty, 1753, p.64, and 1969 reprint).

Unlike Hogarth, Highmore chooses a later point in the story (Luke 10: 30–7) where the Samaritan has already tended and bound the wounds of the man who fell among thieves, and is about to help him to get up so that he can mount his horse. This calls for very different tensions (and ones, incidentally, more in keeping with those of the Torso Belvedere) in the bodies of the two men than does the more usual depiction of the application of balm to the victim's wounds. The strain of supporting the victim's arm and shoulder while the latter painfully gathers strength to stand up, justifies the Samaritan's somewhat awkward stance, and results in an unusually tense rendering of the parable.

Published in:
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988

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