manner of Sir Joshua Reynolds

A Young Black Man (?Francis Barber)

Manner of Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723–1792
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 756 x 879 mm
Bequeathed by Alan Evans 1974

Display caption

The man in this portrait has not been firmly identified. He may be Francis Barber, the servant and heir of the writer Dr Samuel Johnson, or Reynolds’s own servant. This picture is one of many student copies of an unfinished painting by Reynolds. It has been exhibited under various descriptive titles and can be interpreted in different ways. The man’s upward glance, which Reynolds often used in representing aristocrats, suggests dignified intellectual reflection. But this work was made when Britain was heavily engaged in the slave trade. European writings and images of race often presented dehumanising stereotypes. The many versions of this painting and the previous titles, including ‘A Young Black’, may suggest the Black sitter was being treated as an aesthetic object rather than as an individual.

Gallery label, January 2019

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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

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