Circa 1810 England

Mather Brown (1761-1831) Portrait Believed to be James Augustus Hessey (1785-1870)


1 in stock

Height 35 1/2 inches (92 cm)
Width 30 1/2 inches (77.5 cm)
Depth 2 1/2 inches (6 cm)

Mather Brown (1761-1831)

Portrait believed to be James Augustus Hessey (1785-1870)

Oil on canvas; held in a period style giltwood frame. Dimensions refer to outer framed size

Provenance: Private Collection, Scotland

James Augustus Hessey was a bookseller and printer who worked in partnership with John Taylor and published the early work of Keats and later owned the London Magazine (1821–5). He and Taylor set up in business as publishers and booksellers in 1806 and from the beginning wanted to encourage and promote new talent. In early 1817, just before the Ollier brothers published Keats’s first volume of poetry, they met with the poet and were taken aback by his dress and manner, but agreed to publish his next volume. After poor sales and Ollier Brothers subsequently dropping him, they were duty bound to honour their promise. Advancing Keats money over the next three years in anticipation of future success, his next two volumes, Endymion (published in 1818) and Lamia etc, also proved unprofitable. But despite personal differences to his poetry, Hessey and Taylor continued to support him and were fierce supporters of his work when they believed it to be outstanding. Taylor wrote to his father at the end of June 1820:

“Next week Keats’s new Volume of Poems will be published, & if it does not sell well, I think nothing will ever sell again. I am sure of this that for poetic Genius there is not his equal living & I would compare him against any one with either Milton or Shakespeare for beauties”

The firm also published work by Keats’s friend John Hamilton Reynolds, poet John Clare, and Thomas De Quincey. Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater first appeared in The London Magazine, which Hessey was instrunmental in aquiring in 1821.

The only other known portrait of Hessey is at Keats House, Hampstead and is of a later date to the portrait presented here which displays all the characteristic flair and energetic brushwork associated with Mather Brown.

Mather Brown was born in Boston, Mass. in 1761 and was one of the American artists who made their way to Europe during and immediately after the Revolution to study painting. He first went to Paris and arrived in London in 1781 with an introduction to Benjamin West from Benjamin Franklin. Planning to be a miniature painter, Brown entered the school of the Royal Academy. He worked also in West’s studio, where his style was influenced by Gilbert Stuart’s and where his ambitions changed to the pursuit of a career as a portrait and history painter. Unlike most of the Americans who studied with West, Brown chose to remain in England for the rest of his life and West’s influence throughout Brown’s career was very strong. The success of two religious paintings in 1784 for St. Mary’s in the Strand, London, led Brown to found a partnership with the painter Daniel Orme for the commercialisation of these and other works through exhibition and the sale of engravings.

In 1784-1785 Brown painted portraits of John Adams, his wife and daughter, and in 1786 he painted Thomas Jefferson. His full-length portraits of the Duke of York and the Prince of Wales, in 1788 and 1789 respectively, led to his appointment as official portrait painter of the Duke. Despite rendering for posterity Presidents and Princes his fortunes declined and he failed to be elected to the Royal Academy. He spent time in Bath and later Manchester before returning to London in 1824.

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