William Hogarth

James Quin, Actor


Not on display

William Hogarth 1697–1764
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 760 × 622 mm
frame: 965 × 843 × 95 mm
Purchased 1904


This picture, one of Hogarth's most successful bust-length male portraits, depicts the actor James Quin (1693-1766). Quin's pose is deliberately theatrical, his head turned to the right, his eyes raised upwards as if in search of divine inspiration. The figure is framed within a feigned, carved stone roundel. Quin's expressive countenance accentuated by the inventive way in which Hogarth has painted his long wig, the right side cascading down his coat, while the left is swept back behind the shoulder. Indeed, the whole ensemble reveals a conscious debt to the conventions of the Baroque. 'The full-bottom wig, like the lion's mane, hath something noble in it', wrote Hogarth, 'but were it to be worn as large again it would become a burlesque' (1997, p.31). Quin's clothing too proclaims his sense of importance, his fine ruffles of Flemish lace and his brown velvet coat heavily trimmed with elaborate gold 'frogging'. The whole portrait has an air of archaic splendour, befitting one who was, by the late 1730s, the mainstay of an increasingly outmoded and bombastic school of acting.

James Quin was born in Covent Garden, the illegitimate son of an Irish barrister. By 1716 he was an established figure on the London stage, while his characterization of Falstaff in 1720 confirmed his position as one of the capital's leading actors. Hogarth, who had many friends in the acting profession, was a close friend of Quin, the two men belonging to the same masonic lodge. Quin loved company and was cherished for his wit and generosity. Like Hogarth he was short and increasingly rotund, owing to his renowned gluttony. He also possessed a fiery temperament; it was rumoured that he had killed two of his fellow-actors in duels. Quin continued to act until his retirement in 1751, by which time he had been eclipsed by the brilliance of David Garrick, whose lively, naturalistic acting was in sharp contrast to Quin's static, declamatory manner. Even so, the men became good friends during Quin's long retirement, Garrick penning the epitaph for Quin's tomb in Bath Abbey.

Further reading:

Elizabeth Einberg, Hogarth the Painter, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1997, p.31, no.10, reproduced in colour
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth. British Painters born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery 1988, pp.98-9, reproduced in colour

Martin Postle
August 2000

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Display caption

James Quin was one of London’s leading actors, and a close friend of Hogarth. Quin loved company and was known for his wit and generosity. He was short and his gluttony for which he was also well known, made him increasingly fat. Quin also had a notoriously quick temper; it was rumoured that he had killed two of his fellow-actors in duels.
Quin’s pose in this bust-length portrait is deliberately theatrical, with his head turned to the right and his eyes raised upwards.

Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry

N01935 James Quin, Actor c. 1739

Oil on canvas 760×622 (29 15/16×24 1/2)
Inscribed ‘W Hogar [...] h pinx 17 [? 3...]’ bottom left corner, and ‘Mr: QUIN’ in yellow paint on bottom right spandrel
Purchased by the National Gallery (Clarke Fund) 1904; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1951
PROVENANCE ...; possibly ‘A well-painted Portrait of Quin the celebrated Actor’ owned 1817 by Mr Gwennap of Lower Brook Street; ...; according to Dobson (1907, p.219), owned by the actor Charles Matthews (1776–1835), but two portraits of Quin ascribed to Hogarth he is known to have owned are now in the Garrick Club, and he is unlikely to have owned this as well; ...; the 5th Marquess Townshend, Raynham Hall, Norfolk, by 1867; Townshend sale, Christie's 5 March 1904 (61) bt Agnew, from whom bt by the National Gallery
EXHIBITED National Portrait Exhibition, South Kensington 1867 (348); Dublin 1872 (National Portrait Section, no.152); R A Winter 1885 (6); La Peinture Anglaise, Louvre, Paris 1938 (66, repr.); Art and the Theatre, Lady Lever Art Gallery, Port Sunlight 1949 (96); Manchester 1954 (35); BC tour 1969 (77); Tate Gallery 1971 (108, repr.); British Portraits, BC tour, Bucharest, Budapest 1972–3 (13, repr.); The Georgian Playhouse, Hayward Gallery 1975 (17, repr.); Royal Opera House Retrospective, RA 1982 (187, repr.); Rococo Art and Design in Hogarth's England, Victoria and Albert Museum 1984 (p.67, E5, repr.)
LITERATURE Nichols & Steevens 1817, p.192; Dobson 1902, p.185; Dobson 1907, p.219; DNB 1908, XVI (for Quin); C.K. Adams, Catalogue of Pictures in the Garrick Club, 1936, nos.29, 399 (for other portraits of Quin from Matthews collection); W.K. Firminger, ‘The Members of the Lodge of the Bear and Harrow’, Ars Quattuor Coronatorum, XLVIII, 1938, pp. 102–37; Davies 1946, p.73; Beckett 1949, p.59, fig.153; A.P. Oppé, English Drawings at Windsor Castle, 1950, p.63, no.351, pl.61; Antal 1962, pp.58, 69, 231 n.6; Baldini & Mandel 1967, p.104, no.115, repr.; Paulson 1971, I, pp.342, 454, II, pp.24, 26, 27, 130, 427 n.48, 452 n.84; Webster 1979, pp.97, 102, repr.

One of Hogarth's most successful bust-portraits, it represents the leading tragic actor of the pre-Garrick era still at the height of his powers, but already showing the results of his proverbial greed at table. The heroic turn of the head and unusually elaborate (for Hogarth) carved stone surround seem to be an adaptation of the seventeenth-century Baroque bust-portrait formula and may serve to underline Quin's adherence to the old school of static and declamatory acting that was soon to be superseded by the naturalistic manner of Macklin and later Garrick.

Quin (1693–1766) was born in Covent Garden, London, the illegitimate son of an Irish barrister. By 1716 he was taking leading parts at Drury Lane, and after his great success as Falstaff in 1720 he never lost his leading position on the London stage. He was one of Hogarth's many friends in the theatre and both are listed as members of the masonic lodge which met at the Bear and Harrow, Butcher's Row, in 1730–2. In 1746 Quin appeared at Covent Garden with the rising star David Garrick in The Fair Penitent, where their different styles were seen to mutual advantage. Hogarth was to paint both actors and brought out this difference in the much more active poses he gave Garrick both in theatrical as well as in straight portraiture. Also in 1746, Hogarth compared Quin and Garrick, neither of whom was very tall, in a drawing, not entirely to the former's advantage: he characterised Quin's massive presence as ‘a very short proportion’, and Garrick's lithe and mobile figure as ‘a very tall proportion’ (Oppé 1950). A few years of genuine rivalry followed, but on 15 May 1751 Quin gave his last performance as a paid actor before retiring to his beloved Bath, to which he gave the famous description of ‘the cradle of age and a fine slope to the grave’. During retirement he became good friends with Garrick, who wrote the epitaph for his tomb in Bath Abbey.

Vain and hot-tempered (he is said to have killed two fellow-actors in duels), he was also generous, convivial and possessed of a brilliant if sometimes coarse wit. He was painted by several leading artists of the time, most notably by Gainsborough, whose splendid full-length of the actor in old age is in the National Gallery of Ireland.

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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