Self-portrait of the Artist engraving
Richard Morton Paye (Botley c.1760 – London c.1821)
Oil painting on canvas, Self-portrait of the Artist engraving by Richard Morton Paye (1750-1821), 1783. As a young man, seated by candlelight in a studio; he faces right, his head turned towards the spectator, an etching point in his right hand, a copper plate and a small canvas which he is copying supported on the table in front of him; behind is a gilt mirror in which the candle reflected; a cast of Apollo Belvedere is in the corner of the room.
It is unusual to see a portrait of an engraver at work (though one of the better-known examples is Watteau's drawing, possibly of Bernard Baron, in the British Museum), and even more so when the painter is himself the engraver. Details such as the use of a reduced version of the original portrait to engrave from, and the mirror to ensure that the engraver makes a reversed image on his plate, which will then print in the same direction as the original, or the screen to diffuse light from the window in daytime, are fascinating. But the picture possesses an additional source of interest in that Paye was not only both painter and engraver, but also a modeller and chaser, so that the picture likewise includes sculpture - apparently both reduced plaster casts of celebrated Antiques, and (discreetly tucked under the table on the right) examples of his own work. The portrait that he is engraving is not, however, one painted by himself, but the reduced version of a lost portrait of the famous and philanthropic surgeon of Bart's, Percival Pott, FRS (1714-88), the eponym of 'Pott's fracture', painted by Nathaniel Dance (1735-1811). A half-length derivative variant of it, without hands or setting, was presented to the Royal College of Surgeons by Francis Wingrave in 1800 . The portrait shows Pott at an advanced age, and must therefore have been one of the last painted by Dance before he retired from professional practice in 1782. The engraving was also published by Paye himself, on 21st October 1783, from No.26 Swallow Street [Piccadilly] . The most plausible reason for this is that he had begun it as some form of return to the sitter's third, but second surviving, son, Joseph Holden Pott (1759-1847), who had then just proceeded MA at Cambridge, but subsequently rose to become Vicar of Kensington and Archdeacon of London, and who is recorded as having been Paye's first patron, and as buying his earliest works . Such may indeed have been the case, although the age of twenty-three, and before the death of his father, would normally have been rather early for a second son to have been dispensing patronage. We know, however, that Pott had already manifested an interest in art, since in 1782 he had published (anonymously) An Essay on Landscape Painting. Furthermore, Paye's second patron is said by the same sources, one claiming personal knowledge of the artist from that period, to have been the satirist and art-critic (and interestingly, previously also a physician) 'Peter Pindar', alias Dr John Wolcot (1738-1819). The commencement of his patronage of Paye can be fairly narrowly dated, since it succeeded his estrangement from his original artistic protégé, 'the Cornish Wonder', John Opie, which occurred in 1782 and coincided with Paye's move from Swallow Street to Broad Street in 1784, when they shared lodgings. Paye himself was later to quarrel with Wolcot, the argument having begun with arguments over the model for his Portrait of a Sulky Boy (exh. RA, 1785) - who was reputedly none other than an illegitimate son of Wolcot's - and over Paye's refusal to adopt the dilettante's advice, and having ended with Paye painting a satirical image of Wolcot himself. All in all, therefore, there are good reasons for dating the younger Pott's patronage of Paye to a period extending until at least 1783. The fact, however, that the engraving of Pott Senior was not dedicated either to him or to his son, may be an indication that Paye - whose unsociable nature is commented upon by the anonymous writer of his obituary in The Literary Gazette - had broken with both of them by the time that he came to publish it in October 1783; but it could just be one of the many indications of his unworldliness. Paye exhibited this picture at the Society of Artists in 1783, under the title simply of An Engraver at Work. His adjacently numbered exhibit was An old woman at Work in a Window, which sounds almost like a pendant to it, and is the one that the writer of the posthumous piece about him in the Library of the Fine Arts record as being sold some time subsequently, after it had passed out of his hands, as "a fine Netherlandish work" - just as a picture of his wife and family modelling The Widow's Cruse was displayed at a prominent dealer's as a Velazquez, and the present picture was bought by Neeld as by Wright of Derby. At this period, and for some time afterwards, Paye seems to have made a speciality of pictures displaying light effects, for which his inspiration, at least in in general terms was, indeed, evidently Wright of Derby. It is therefore not without interest that a lifesize version of one of the Antique casts shown in this painting, the Nymph with a Shell, should also have been the focal point of Wright's Lamplight Academy (exh. Society of Artists, 1769; Yale Center for British Art) There does not seem to be any trace of a direct connection between Wright and Paye, but the fact of Wright's influence (though the depiction of candlelight rather suggests Dutch models) is sufficiently rare to be worthy of remark. Particularly since Paye, compelled from this time on to respond to the demands of the market, increasingly concentrated instead upon sentimentalised fancy pictures and portraits of children, virtually from the year that this picture was exhibited. We do not know whether, as one might expect, this picture of indirect homage to Percival Pott ever belonged to his son, though - in view of the arguments set out above and of Neeld having acquired it, as a Wright of Derby, before 1832 - it seems unlikely. The antecedents of its first recorded owner, Joseph Neeld, MP (1789-1856), of Grittleton House, near Chippenham, have their own interest, however. For he was the builder and furnisher with contemporary British sculpture on a lavish scale of Grittleton, which he was enabled to do by his having inherited in 1827 the then astonishing sum of £1 million from his great-uncle, Philip Rundell (1746-1827), the founder of one of the most successful jewellers' and goldsmiths' businesses that this country has ever seen, Rundell & Bridge. In view of the fact that Paye is known to have been active primarily as a chaser in his early years, there is a certain aptness in this picture's having later belonged to the nephew of one of the prime employers of such craftsmen. (i) See William Le Fanu, A Catalogue of the Portraits, and other Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture in the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 1960, cat. 192, p.62 & pl.34. (ii) The print is unusually large, and rare. The only example known to David Alexander and this writer is in the Portrait Collection in the Print Room of the British Museum. (iii) See Obituary by 'D.' in The Literary Gazette, 27 January 1822, p.60; partially reproduced by the New Monthly Magazine, vol.VI, no.XV, 1 March 1822, pp.137-38. I am indebted to David Alexander for these references, as for considerable further help with this entry. Also 'Neglected Biography'. No.1. - R.M. PAYE', Library of the Fine Arts, vol.III, No.13 (Feb. 1832), pp.95-101, esp. p.96. (iv) E.W. Clayton, 'Richard Morton Paye', The Connoisseur, vol. XXXVII, Dec. 1913, p.231 & fig. p.232. (v) Francis Haskell & Nicholas Penny, Taste and the Antique, New Haven & London, 1981, pp.280-82; exh. cat. Wright of Derby, Tate Gallery, &c., 1990, cat.23. (adapted from author's version/pre-publication, Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995)
Bought between 1827 and 1832 by Joseph Neeld, MP (1789 - 1856), of Grittleton House, near Chippenham, Wiltshire (as by Wright of Deby); thence by descent to L. W. Neeld; his sale, Christie's, 13 July 1945, lot 141 (as 'Portrait of the artist seated sketching'); bought by Peter Chance for the 2nd Viscount Bearsted (1882 - 1948); given with Upton House to the National Trust by Walter Samuel, 2nd Viscount Bearsted (1882 – 1948), in 1948, shortly before his death
Upton House, The Bearsted Collection (National Trust)
Makers and roles
Richard Morton Paye (Botley c.1760 – London c.1821), artist
In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.24
Clayton 1913 E.W. Clayton, 'Richard Morton Paye', The Connoisseur, XXXVII, Dec. 1913, p. 236 Waterhouse 1981 Ellis K. Waterhouse, The Dictionary of British 18th-century Painters in oils and crayons, Woodbridge 1981 , p. 270, with illus.