At the Courtauld

Esther Chadwick

‘I wake early, think; dress me, think; walk, think; come back to my chamber, think; and as I allow no thoughts unworthy to be written, I write.’ There is a clock-like rhythm to this description of a daily routine, written by a man obsessed with time. Jonathan Richardson (1667-1745), the son of a London silk weaver, rose to prominence in the early decades of the 18th century as England’s leading art theorist and portraitist. Abandoning a career as a scrivener, he went on to paint writers (Pope, Steele, Prior), aristocrats (the Marquess of Rockingham, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu) and doctors (Richard Mead, Sir Hans Sloane). But he turned down an offer to be the King’s Painter because he objected to ‘the slavery of court dependence’. His writings on art were read widely (his Essay on the Theory of Painting, published in 1715, was on Delacroix’s reading list a century later). ‘Painting has another Advantage of Words,’ he wrote, ‘and that is, it pours Ideas into our Minds, Words only drop ’em.’ He taught Thomas Hudson, who in turn taught Joseph Wright of Derby and Joshua Reynolds. By the time of his death – suddenly, on sitting down in his chair after his usual morning walk – he owned ‘unspecified’ amounts of bank and South Sea stock, as well as five London houses.

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