|(Probably) Robert Peake the Elder, An unknown lady, traditionally called Eleanor Wortley, Lady Lee, 1615. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens|
The Huntington has announced a group of purchases expanding the scope of its collection of British art
. One, a full-length portrait attributed to Robert Peake the Elder, becomes the earliest major British picture in the collection. There's also a small oil sketch of a young Black man; an Anglo-Japanese vase by Christopher Dresser; a Futurist-inspired pastel cityscape by C.R.W. Nevinson.
Henry Huntington's painting collection began with Hogarth. It was half a century after Huntington's death that the institution added a British-period van Dyck, about 1637. The new, full-length portrait pushes the timeline back a generation, to about 1615. Recent detective work had ruled out the traditional identification of the subject as one Eleanor Wortley, Lady Lee. The sitter is now unknown, and the press release says the painting is "probably" by Robert Peake the Elder. Scholars have struggled to distinguish Peake's work from that of his associates. The painting, measuring 81-1/2 by 47-3/16 inches, is a prime example of the costume piece, a portrait of fabric, jewels, and status as much as flesh (of which not too much is visible). Such portraits were a British innovation, ancestral to the painterly full-length likenesses of van Dyck, Gainsborough, and Reynolds.
|Unknown British artist, Portrait of a Young Black Man, 1800-1820. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens|
The sitter and artist of the small (8-3/4 in. high) Portrait of a Young Black Man
are likewise unknown. The red neckerchief might indicate the man is a sailor. LACMA has a c. 1800 portrait of an African-American sailor
with a red neckerchief and blue coat comparable to the one sketched in brown here.
|Mary Clementina Barrett, Slave Houses on the Barrett Plantation, Jamaica, about 1830. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens |
Three newly added drawings provide some alarming context to Thomas Lawrence's anodyne Pinkie
. Depicting the Barrett estate in Jamaica, the drawings are the work of amateur artist Mary Clementina Barrett, who would have been sister-in-law to "Pinkie." They hark back to the time when young women of breeding demonstrated their education by sketching their family's plantations and slave dwellings. (Huntington Art Museum Director Christina Nielsen explains the Barrett drawings will be used in "in traditional and online publications that foster diversity, equity, and inclusion.")
|Christopher Dresser, Basket Vase, 1892-1896. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens|
The Huntington's collection of the British Arts and Crafts movement lacked a Christopher Dresser-designed object until now. Like van Gogh, Dresser took the art of Japan as a jumping-off point for his individual modernism. Unlike van Gogh, Dresser traveled to Japan and had a better grasp of the cultural history. Dresser's ceramic "basket" evokes woven ones used for ikebana
|Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson, From an Office Window, 1916. The Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens|
In recent years the Huntington has been pursuing works by early British modernists. C.R.W. Nevinson's 12-by-9-in. pastel is a picture of a window, poised somewhere between Matisse and Shuffleton's Barbershop
. The window frame is askew, and neither sunlight nor nostalgia are to be seen.
That makes me think of the social, cultural and political angles surrounding one of the UK's major institutions (and the family connected to that) and a person native to a part of the world nearer where the Huntington is located. The museum's new acquisitions coming stateside? Great! That other person going across the Atlantic? I'll leave it at that.