manner of Sir Joshua Reynolds

A Young Black Man (?Francis Barber)

In Tate Britain

Artist
Manner of Sir Joshua Reynolds 1723–1792
Medium
Oil paint on canvas
Dimensions
Support: 756 x 879 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Bequeathed by Alan Evans 1974
Reference
T01892

Display caption

This portrait is now thought to be Francis Barber, servant of English writer Samuel Johnson. Barber was born into slavery in Jamaica, on a sugarcane plantation belonging to the British Bathurst family, and later brought to England. In 1755, after slave owner Colonel Richard Bathurst died, Barber was freed. He later went to work for Johnson. This picture is one of many student copies of a painting by Joshua Reynolds. Previous titles, including A Young Black, may suggest that as a Black man, Barber was being treated as an artistic subject, rather than as an individual.

Gallery label, August 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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