caption

Benjamin West, Thomas Horner (1737–1804) and his Daughter Elizabeth Anne Horner (1760–1843)

Photo courtesy of Dave Penman (All Rights Reserved)

Details

Country House
Mells Manor
Title(s)
Thomas Horner (1737–1804) and his Daughter Elizabeth Anne Horner (1760–1843)
Date
c.1764
Medium and support
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
Overall height: 127 cm, Overall width: 102 cm
Artist
Benjamin West (1738-1820)
Catalogue Number
MM52

Description

In 1759 Thomas Horner (1737–1804) married Elizabeth Paget, daughter of the Reverend Thomas Paget, Rector of Mells. The couple had two children, Elizabeth Anne (1760–1843) and Thomas Strangways Horner (1762–1840). In the present portrait, Anne, who appears to be about four years old, stands on her father’s knee, touching the collar of his coat, while looking intently him, as if in the act of speaking. He in turn holds her round the waist, a blue ribbon from her dress between the fingers of his right hand. The display, through an embrace, of intimacy between a father and young child is relatively rare in eighteenth-century British portraiture and is a configuration to be found more usually in images of a mother and child, as for example in West’s portrait of Anne, Countess of Northampton and her daughter (Bass Museum of Art, Florida) painted in Venice in 1762, which was in all but name a Madonna and Christ Child. The composition is also somewhat reminiscent of Joshua Reynolds’s portrait of Countess Georgiana Spencer and her daughter, Georgiana (The Earl Spencer, Althorp) of 1759–61, where a young girl in a dress and bonnet stands on a table while being embraced by her mother. However, it is uncertain whether West could have seen that particular painting, which was not engraved until 1770.1 In any event, Horner’s attitude towards his daughter as expressed here may have been spontaneous and finds an echo in his obituary, where he was described as ‘an affectionate parent’ and ‘a man of truly honourable and gentlemanlike principles.’2

The portrait is by the American-born artist Benjamin West. Born in 1738 in Springfield, Pennsylvania, West travelled directly to Italy 1760, where he spent three years, before arriving in England in August 1763. Although he had intended to stay in England only briefly before returning to America, he remained there for the rest of his life, pursuing a career in London principally as a history painter, although he also took on portrait commissions. Judging by the age of Anne Horner in the present portrait, it must have been painted around 1763–4 and therefore counts among West’s earliest British portraits. Before he settled in London, West visited Somerset briefly in the autumn of 1763, spending time in Bath with his American patron, Chief Justice William Allen, who was also then visiting with his family. It was possibly at this time that West painted Allen’s teenage daughter, Anne (Cincinnati Art Museum, Ohio), which compares closely in style and technique to the present portrait. Given the proximity of Mells to Bath, the portrait of Thomas Horner and his daughter may also have been painted there rather than in London. Also, although the nature of the connection is unknown, it seems likely, given West’s recent arrival, that Horner had some prior relationship with the artist’s immediate circle of patrons.

In terms of its technique the portrait is typical in demonstrating West’s smooth application of paint, combined with crisp linearity, notable in the treatment of the draperies and facial features which results in an almost sculptural quality. Among other paintings made by West at this time, a comparison can be made with the group portrait of 1763–4, featuring Ralph Izard and friends, also known as ‘The Cricketers’ (Brook Club, New York). There, standing in the centre, is a young man named Ralph Wormeley, who is dressed in an identical green suit to that worn by Horner, an indication that the suit possibly belonged  to West, rather than his sitter, and was a studio prop. However, there is a miniature portrait of Thomas Horner at Mells, of about same period, in which he also wears a similar green suit.

by Martin Postle

Footnotes

  1. David Mannings and Martin Postle, Sir Joshua Reynolds: A Complete Catalogue of his Paintings, 2 vols, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, vol. 1, pp. 427–8, no. 1677; vol. 2, pl. 35 and fig. 464.

    1
  2. The Universal Magazine, n.s., vol. 1, February 1804, p. 199.

    2

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