The practice of having a specialist drapery painter work on the clothes of sitters after the artist had painted in the face was quite common in 18th-century portrait painting. Rouquet offers the following observations and anecdotes.
When a portrait painter happens to have a little business, it is usual for him to employ other hands in the painting of the drapery. Two rival artists took it into their heads to hire entirely to themselves another painter whose name was Vanhaken, to be employed in the drawing of the drapery: this man had real abilities, and might have done much better things, but chose to confine himself to this branch, because he was always sure of business. The two painters agreed to pay him eight hundred guineas a year, whether they could find work for him to this amount or not; and he on his side engaged to paint no drapery but for them. When either of those painters was employed to draw a picture, it was frequently on condition that the drapery should be done by Vanhaken. And indeed his drapery was charming, in an excellent taste, and extremely natural. The two rival painters who had thus engrossed Vanhaken, occasioned a great deal of confusion among the rest of their brother artists, who could not do without his assistance. The best of them knew not how to draw a hand, a coat or ground; they were obliged to learn it, and of course to work harder. Sad misfortune! From that time ceased that extraordinary sight at Vanhaken’s, when he used to have canvases sent him from different parts of London, and by the stage coaches from the most remote towns in England, on which one or more masks were painted, and at the bottom of which the painter who sent them took care to add the description of the figures, whether large or small, which he was to give them. Nothing can be more ridiculous than this custom, which would have still continued, had Vanhaken still continued. (Rouquet 1755, 44-45).
Rouquet’s Vanhaken was Joseph Van Aken (c.1699—1749) (his recent death occasioning the ` had Vanhaken still continued’ comment) who was indeed a notable drapery painter, although I am not sure about the story of two artists cornering the market. The Oxford Dictionary of Art notes that he `worked for Highmore, Hudson, Knapton, Ramsay, and others’.
Rouquet on Art Auctions
Rouquet on Kneller
Nathaniel Acton was a wealthy, and successful, Suffolk landowner. The Actons had been landowners since the late 1500s, having made their money in the Ipswich cloth trade. They had expanded their holdings in the 17th century, buying assorted farms, woods, and meadows, a practice continued by Nathaniel in the second half of the 18th century. Nathaniel Acton was the only son of Nathaniel Acton of Bramford Hall and his third wife Elizabeth Fowle. Nathaniel’s father had been a third son, and only inherited in 1743 due to the deaths of his older brothers without issue. He died in 1745.
Nathaniel was thus in his early twenties when he subscribed to Kirby’s Historical Account, and in his early thirties when Gainsborough painted him in 1758.
In 1741, Nathaniel entered Bury school, where one John Wearg was a governor. In 1753, Acton married Caroline Wearg, and Gainsborough painted her portrait, too.
Gainsborough also painted (possibly in the same year) Nathaniel’s sister, Elizabeth, who had married Richard Colvile.
Nathaniel and Caroline had two children, Nathaniel and Harriet, before she died in 1761. Nathaniel then married Dorothy Aspin of Bury St. Edmunds in the same year, and they had a daughter Caroline. Dorothy lived until 1805. Her portrait was painted by Thomas Bardwell in 1762, but I do not have a picture to show you. There is also a portrait of Nathaniel by Thomas Hudson, although I do not know the date. I must say he looks rather more dashing in the Hudson than the Gainsborough.
One of the first accounts of Joshua Kirby in London is his presence as one of the two dozen diners at the infamous Rembrandt Roast of Thomas Hudson. The anecdote is recounted in various versions – this is abbreviated from Paulson’s account in his three-volume Hogarth, which in turn is based on Wilson’s account that appeared in a biography of one of his sons. While there is no reason to trust all of Wilson’s reminiscence, it does give a colorful view.
The work of Rembrandt was much-prized by eighteenth century artists and connoisseurs, some of whom had more confidence in their taste than was warranted. The artist Benjamin Wilson, who had a falling out with his neighbor Thomas Hudson, conceived of a plan, which he hatched with the connivance of Hogarth. Wilson etched a couple of plates in the style of Rembrandt and passed the etchings off as those of the master. Hudson immediately bought one, claiming it had ‘the finest light and shade that he had ever seen by Rembrandt.’ Wilson and Hogarth sold a few other prints to gullible collectors and then decided to expose the hoax and Hudson.
Wilson took the money he had earned and invited two dozen artists, including Hudson, to a supper featuring an “English roast”. When the chief dish of a large cold sirloin appeared it was ‘decorated not with greens or with horseradish, but covered all over with the same kind of prints” as Hudson had bought. At first Hudson refused to believe he had been fooled, but “Hogarth stuck his fork into one of the engravings, and handed it to him”.
`”What did Hogarth say, Sir?” asked Benjamin West [to whom Wilson was recounting the episode], when he heard the story. “He! an impudent dog! he did nothing but laugh with Kirby the whole evening.—Hudson never forgave him for it.”‘
Hudson did not take the joke kindly, and the affair rumbled on. However, Hudson, along with Wilson and Hogarth, was a subscriber to the first edition of Kirby’s Method of Perspective a couple of years later.