Executed by Ozias Humphry R.A in 1788.
A fascinating portrait, its provenance and history...
Executed by Ozias Humphry R.A in 1788.
A fascinating 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
one George Humphry, a Peruke maker, and Mercer, and his mother Elizabeth, a lace
maker. He was educated by Samuel Bamfield, and at grammar school under the Rev
Richard Lewis. He showed great talent in drawing and studied at Shipley’s academy
1757, then the Duke of Richmond’s’ Academy, and under the miniaturist Samuel Collins
at Bath 1760-1762. `On Collins’ removal to London to avoid 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 way of painting, which are the chief source of study
of Gainsborough’s methods, and practices of painting, which scholars study today.
(Gainsborough’s’ use of the “camera obscura” is described by Humphry).
In 1763, he removed to London, where he lodged for a time with his mentor and friend,
Sir Joshua Reynolds, who encouraged his talent and indeed procured him his first Royal
Commission, with the enormous sum of 100 guineas. He also studied with Zoffany, who
later taught him to paint transparent muslins, and met many of the artists of the day.
Ozias Humphry was a prolific letter writer, diarist and note-taker all his life, which has
been a great help to future biographers. My brother Robin and I have done a year's
research on Ozias Humphry. He learned his trade of miniaturism under Samuel Collins
and was a very fine miniaturist himself. This was his first love and it was his great
misfortune that he fell from his horse in London in 1771 and badly damaged his eyesight.
After this fall for many years, he suffered bouts of blindness and eventually went
completely blind in 1797.
In 1773, he travelled through Paris, to Italy, with his great friend George Romney. Before he left England, he stopped at Knole, near Sevenoaks in Kent, where the Duke of Dorset commissioned him to copy various famous paintings in Italy for him. Ozias, no longer able to concentrate on miniaturism, set about teaching himself to learn to paint ‘in large’ in oils, and copying other painters works was, and is, an integral part of this. George Romney influenced him, and indeed, some of his works have been mistaken for Romney’s, (one famous Ozias Humphry, of the ‘Ladies Waldegrave as Venus and Juno’, actually had to be settled in court when a sketch by Ozias was produced to prove it was by him and not Romney). He stayed in Italy until 1777, visiting both Florence and Rome, and on his return to London, painted many large oil paintings. He painted George Stubbs and compiled a contemporary biography of him, based on Stubbs’ reminiscences whilst painting him. He knew and helped William Blake who wrote to him thanking him.
He left for India to join another friend, Zoffany, in January 1785 and did reasonably well there, but failed to have the huge success that Zoffany achieved. Various Indian Potentates never honoured his bills to them and he returned to England in the spring of 1788, his health having deteriorated and somewhat disillusioned.
His brother William Humphry had married into a prominent Kentish family and Ozias had petitioned the Duke of Dorset to give his brother, a clergyman, the living at Seal near Sevenoaks, which was in his gift. The Duke reprimanded Ozias for importuning him over this matter, but having informed him that “Duke’s never forget”, he gave William Humphry the living. William Humphry also became the Duke’s chaplain and Ozias spent a great deal of time with his brother and his family. Ozias painted the dancer mistress of the Duke, Madame Bacelli and her illegitimate son by him, ‘John Frederick Sackville’, (‘Boy holding a cricket bat’) in 1788. Also at this time, Edward Austen Knight, Jane Austen’s brother, Cassandra and Jane herself.
In between bouts of blindness, when his eyesight was better, he still did a few miniatures and was elected to the Royal Academy in 1791, of which he was extremely proud. He was the last miniaturist ever to be admitted, miniaturists then being out of fashion, and being thought to be on the lower rung of portraitists.
He then turned to crayons and in 1792, he was appointed portrait painter in crayons, to the King. He also executed a very fine portrait of the Duke of Dorset in crayon, which hangs at Knole. Many of his pictures are still in the Royal Collection.
Ozias Humphry never married but had an illegitimate son called William Upcott, by a girl named Dolly Wickers, whom he referred to as his Godson. He died in Hampstead in London, in 1810 and is buried at St. James’ Chapel.
RESEACH ON OZIAS HUMPHRY'S METHODS OF PAINTING AND SIGNING HIS WORKS
To try to understand the Rice portrait, and indeed all of Humphry's known works, miniatures, sketches,
pastels and oil paintings, Robin and I discovered (after a year's research) was exceedingly complicated and
surprising. There has been no definitive book published about him since the biography by ‘Manners and
Williamson’ in 1910. Also, the only art expert who had done any significant work on him, Brain Stewart,
Director of the Falmouth art Gallery, died last year, leaving us with no available authoritative expert on
this artist to consult with. So we had to start where Brian left off, and do the work ourselves.
It had always been accepted that he signed his miniatures with his distinctive OH monogram, and that
on many of the backs of the ivory he used, he wrote his name, monogram, and the sitter's name and the
date. What had not been recognized however was that he did not always sign conventionally on the right
hand side or indeed on the left of the miniatures, but put his OHs in the most surprising places. Behind
the sitters’ ears, in their hair, on lockets and brooches, and in the case of gentlemen, very often on their
buttons, using the round of the button as the O, and placing his H in the centre. Also the OH was often
slanted, e.g. to the left or the right, and in one case, horizontal. I am publishing many examples of this
habit of his, below this article.
We then started to examine his large oil paintings, his pastels and his sketches, and discovered that
exactly the same practices applied. He also wrote copious notes on the reverse of his works, he was a
most prolific artist and a very hard worker, and ran a large studio. These notes must have been
designed to help his assistants (he employed the young Henry Singleton in his studio, we discovered
some of his account books, which note their wages). When he learnt to paint ‘in large’ in oils, his studio
was in Newman Street, near George Romney’s, who was a great help to him. In one piece written on
Humphry, it says that some of his pictures were unsigned; nothing could be further from the truth.
They were signed, not only once, but several times, some very cleverly concealed, whilst other OHs are
blindingly obvious. It appears that he did this purely because as a miniaturist, he was able to do it and
it appealed to his sense of fun to see how many OHs the sitter could spot! See 'figure 1' above.
This theory of ours was confirmed when we discovered in Williamson's book, a joke tombstone,
designed by a friend of his and sent to him to pull his leg! His friend has designed a grandiose cross on
a catafalque for him, with holes on it, round Os, which each has a tiny little H in the middle. His
contemporaries were obviously well aware of his multiple signing habits! Also his friend has put an R.A
on his tombstone, (he was delighted, when in 1791, he was admitted) and added a palette to the mix,
with again a tiny hole in the centre. The picture of this tombstone is reproduced below. Ozias was
also, by all accounts, very proud of his old, and rather grand ancestry,
hence one imagines the catafalque.
Ozias wrote voluminous letters which have also been a great help to us, but one of the most important
tools available has been the incredible power of the internet. This has made his works, hung all over the
world, possible for us to see and often the photographs of his canvases show the OHs better than the
naked eye can distinguish, when looking at the originals. We also discovered that on his larger oils, he
actually wrote with black paint on the front of the canvases, these writings are disguised as foliage,
grass or reeds, and are either in the top right hand corner, or along the bottom, below the sitter's feet.
I am also putting examples of this in the photographs, which follow this article. We have arrowed the
relevant OHs and I hope that you will find this ‘jester’ of an artist as fascinating as we have done.
In contemporary accounts, Ozias was a kind man with a quick temper, who was proud of his grand patrons, especially the Royal family, and enjoyed staying in their houses whilst painting them. He was fond of his brother’s family, and of his illegitimate son, William Upcott, and was obviously very popular with the other, perhaps greater artist of his day, who helped him after his accident. The family is planning to write a new biography of Ozias Humphry, based on our research; I hope we can do him justice.
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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