Executed by Ozias Humphry R.A in 1788.
A portrait, its provenance and history...
Executed by Ozias Humphry R.A in 1788.
A portrait, its provenance and history...
The Rice Portrait of
Ozias Humphry R.A 1742-1810
Ozias Humphry was born on September 8th 1742 in Honiton, Devon. His father was
George Humphry, a wigmaker and mercer; his mother Elizabeth was a lace maker. Ozias
was educated by the mathematician and astronomer Samuel Bamfield, and at grammar
school under the Rev. Richard Lewis. He showed great talent in drawing and studied at
Shipley’s academy in 1757, at the Duke of Richmond’s’ Academy, and under the
miniaturist and portraitist Samuel Collins at Bath (1760-1762.) On Collins’s removal to
Ireland to escape his creditors, Humphry succeeded to his practice for a short time. He
became acquainted with Thomas Gainsborough in Bath and worked in his studio. He
wrote voluminous notes about Gainsborough’s methods and painting techniques,
which scholars continue to study today. Among other things, Gainsborough’s use of the
camera obscura was closely described by Humphry.
In 1763, he moved to London, where he lodged for a time with his mentor and friend,
Sir Joshua Reynolds. Reynolds encouraged his talent and procured him his first royal
commission, which yielded the then-enormous sum of 100 guineas. In London Humphry
also studied with Zoffany, who later taught him to paint transparent muslins -and met
many of the other prominent artists of the day.
Ozias Humphry was a prolific letter writer, diarist and note-taker all his life, a great help
to future biographers. Miniaturism was his first love and it was his great misfortune that
he fell from his horse in London in 1771 in an accident that badly damaged his
eyesight. After this fall he suffered ever more frequent spells of blindness and eventually
lost his sight completely in 1797.
In 1773, Humphry travelled to France and Italy with his great friend George Romney. On the way he stopped at Knole, near Sevenoaks in Kent, where the Duke of Dorset commissioned him to copy various famous paintings in Italy. No longer able to concentrate fully on miniatures because of the periodic difficulties with his eyesight, Humphry set about painting ‘in large’ in oils; copying the work of other painters works was, and remains, an integral part of this learning process for any aspiring painter. George Romney naturally influenced him and indeed some of his works were subsequently mistaken for Romney’s; the attribution of one famous Ozias Humphry, the Ladies Waldegrave as Venus and Juno, actually had to be settled in an English court in 1917). Humphry stayed in Italy until 1777, visiting both Florence and Rome, and on his return to London produced a spate of large oil paintings. Among other sitters, Humphry painted George Stubbs and compiled a contemporary biography of him, based on Stubbs’ reminiscences during their sittings. Also at this time he met and worked with William Blake who remained a loyal friend until his death.
Ozias Humphry sailed for India to join Zoffany in January 1785. He did reasonably well there, but failed to match the huge success that Zoffany achieved. Various Indian potentates failed to pay his bills, his health deteriorated, and he returned to England the worse for wear in the spring of 1787, badly indeed of money and portrait commissions.
The Rev. William Humphry, Ozias’s brother, had married into a prominent Kentish family and the painter successfully petitioned his patron, the Duke of Dorset, to give his relative the living at Seal near Sevenoaks, which was in the Duke’s gift. William Humphry later became the Duke’s personal chaplain at Knole and at this time Ozias was a frequent visitor to his brother and his family at Seale two miles from Knole. Also at this time he painted a portrait of the Duke’s mistress, Madame Bacelli, and her illegitimate son by him, John Frederick Sackville, (Boy holding a cricket bat) in 1788. This painting now hangs in the Agen Museum in SW France. Also at this time, we believe, Humphry completed the portraits of Edward Austen Knight, Jane Austen’s brother, of Cassandra Austen, and of Jane herself. These portraits - we believe again - were paid for by the Duke of Dorset’s agent and man of business, who was none other than Uncle Francis Austen.
In between bouts of blindness, when his eyesight was better, Humphry still painted the occasional miniature. From his original status as an Associate of the Royal Academy he was promoted to full fellowship in 1791. This was an honour of which he was extremely proud; and it is a fact that he was the last miniaturist ever to be admitted to the Academy. The profession was quickly passing out of fashion, being deemed a poor relation to that of portaitists in large.
Humphry then turned to crayon work and in 1792 was appointed portrait painter to the King in that medium; many of his pictures remain in the Royal Collection. Also at this time he executed a very fine crayon portrait of the Duke of Dorset which can still be seen at Knole.
Ozias Humphry never married but had an illegitimate son and heir, William Upcott, who became famous as an early collector of autographs and as the discoverer of the lost diaries of John Evelyn. Contemporary accounts of Ozias Humphry describe a kind man with a quick temper, something of a snob and inordinately proud of his grand patrons, especially the Royal family.. He was clearly also devoted to the family of his clergyman brother William Humphry as well as to his own illegitimate son, William Upcott, and was a popular member of a circle that included many of the great artists of his day. This was demonstrated by the steady support they gave him after the accident that so blighted his career.
Ozias Humphry died in Hampstead in North London, in 1810 .
RESEACH ON OZIAS HUMPHRY'S METHODS OF PAINTING AND SIGNING HIS WORKS
There has been no complete book published about Ozias Humphry’s life and work since the biography by
Manners and Williamson (1910), although John Brewer’s chapter on him in Pleasures of the Imagination;
English Culture in the 18th Century (1997) offers a brilliant short account. The only modern art expert to have
undertaken any significant work on the artist was Brian Stewart, Director of the Falmouth art Gallery, who
Humphry was an energetic and prolific painter, running a large and busy studio. He was in the habit of
signing his miniatures with his distinctive OH monogram, a capital ‘H’ inside a capital ‘O’. On the back
of the ivory he used as a support for his miniatures, he wrote his name, his monogram, the sitter's
name and the date. What has not been fully understood until now is the fact that he did not always sign
conventionally on the right or left hand sides of these miniatures, but put his OHs in the most surprising
places. They can often be discerned hehind the sitters’ ears, in their hair, on lockets and brooches, and in the
case of men, very often on their buttons, using the round of the button as the O, and placing the H in the
centre of it. The OH might also be slanted to the left or the right. Some examples of this eccentric habit are
In Humphry’s oil paintings, pastels and sketches he applied the same practices. He also wrote notes on the
reverse of these larger pictures, no doubt to keep himself and his assistants informed and abreast of the
copious stream of work turned out by the studio. He had many skilled helpers, as his meticulous account
books show; the young Henry Singleton, later R.A., was among several apprentices he employed.
In short, as a portraitist in large Humphry habitually signed his pictures not just once, but several times,
with his characteristic OH monograms. Some signatures are cleverly concealed, some are more easily
discernible. (See fig 1 above.)
This habit seems to have been well known to his contemporaries. In Manners and Williamson's book there
is a sketch for a tombstone designed by a friend of Humphry’s and sent to him as a joke. It takes the form
a grandiose cross on a catafalque with round circular holes in it, each hole with a small H in the middle.
Also the friend has sketched an R.A on the stone, along with a painter’s palette with a tiny hole in the centre.
Humphry was also a prolific letter-writer, and much of his correspondence has survived. This has been
helpful in forming a clearer picture of his life, but latterly by far the most important tool available to us
has been the sheer, unimaginable, ever-increasing reach of Google and the Internet.
The convenience and versatility of the web has made possible a far closer examination of many previously
obscure canvases by Humphry . This has revealed certain details - notably OH signatures - more clearly
than the naked eye can manage when confronted with the originals.
Some examples are shown below.
OH monogram found behind his ear. See arrow above.
Self Portrait by Ozias Humphry.
Drawing by Ozias Humphry of Dolly Wickers and his illegitimate son, William Upcott. OH monogram and date (1780) found on paper.
Drawing by Ozias Humphry, of Mr. Matthew Prior after 1721. OH monogram and date (1783).
John Mealing (d.1769) 1765-6, Ozias Humphry Purchased by George III. OH monogram. This picture is in the Queens’ Collection.
The Ladies Waldergrave
Ozias Humphry. OH
Charlotte, Princess Royal, 1769. Ozias Humphry. Presumably commissioned by Queen Charlotte.
Charles 3rd Duke of Richmond. Ozias Humphry.
OH found behind his ear and bottom left corner.
Elizabeth Louise Vigée Lebrun, 1778.
Ozias Humphry. OH monogram and other black writing in bottom right hand corner.
Lady Elizabeth Berkeley, painted by Ozias Humphry in 1770. Lady Berkeley married Lord Craven. OH monogram.
Mrs. Francis Motley Austen, by Ozias Humphry R.A. OH monogram.
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