JEAN-MARC NATTIER (1685-1766)
Francis Greville, 8th Baron Brooke, later 1st Earl of Warwick (1741)
Oil on canvas (137 x 107 cm)
Jean-Marc Nattier is almost unknown to the majority of the English-speaking art lovers, This is a consequence of the narrow-minded attitude towards 18th-century French painting professed by most Anglo-American art historians to whom during that period there were only three French painters worth mentioning: Boucher, Watteau and Fragonard.
As surprising as it may be Nattier has been ignored not only by the Anglo-Americans but also by his own countrymen. In an interview given to the excellent French magazine Dossier de l’Art in November 1999, Xavier Salmon, at that moment curator of the exhibition dedicated to the artist in Versailles, said that no exhibition of his works was ever held in France since his death in 1766 and that the last work dedicated to Nattier was a biography by Pierre de Nolhac published in 1905.
Nattier’s brilliant career and posthumous fall from grace mirror that of his contemporary Pompeo Batoni (1708-1787) whose exquisite technique resembles the French master’s. Both were not only the greatest portrait painters of their respective countries, but they were also among the finest artists of their century. Their output was quite similar, Nattier painted a bit more than 400 pictures and Batoni nearly 480.
A significant patron of the arts, Lord Brooke, later 1st Earl of Warwick, was the son of William Greville, 7th Baron Brooke and his wife Mary, daughter of Hon. Henry Thynne. His father died when he was just eight years old, and he was raised by his maternal aunt, Frances Seymour, Countess of Hertford. In 1734, soon after leaving Winchester College, Brooke set off for Italy on the Grand Tour to finish his education. He was away for some five years, though the first record of his journey is in 1739 when, travelling via Florence, he arrived in Rome in April of that year, where Samuel Crisp met him and described him as “a very pretty lad”, By October he was in Geneva on his way home and must have visited Paris where he sat to Nattier.
This is one of two portraits by Nattier that were the result of that sitting, painted when Brooke was just twenty-one years old, the other being a half-length signed and dated 1740 (Collection of the Duke of Northumberland, Syon House). Depicted seated at a harpsichord, with a sheath of music in his hands, wearing an exquisitely elegant suit of grey silk, highlighted with gold braid, Greville is every bit the genteel aristocrat. The grandiose setting, with its Doric column and fluttering velvet draperies, recalls the baroque interiors of the great master of late seventeenth-century French portraiture, Hyacinthe Rigaud, while the allusion to music is probably more than just pictorial fancy. A keen musical enthusiast, in 1741 Greville was actively involved in helping to stage Italian opera in London.
In 1746 Greville was created Earl Brooke, and in 1759 he successfully petitioned for the title of Earl of Warwick when the last member of the Rich family to hold that title died. In 1742 he married Elizabeth Hamilton, the elder sister of Sir William Hamilton, Envoy to Naples. Together they did much to improve the family seat, Warwick Castle, employing Lancelot’ Capability’ Brown as both architect and landscape gardener for thirteen years. Elizabeth was the daughter of Lord Archibald Hamilton and his wife Jane, mistress to Frederick, Prince of Wales. The new dining room that they installed at Warwick, designed by Lightoler in the Gothic style, was decorated with full-length portraits of the Prince and his wife Princess Augusta with their son, the future George III, which had probably been a gift from the Prince to her parents. Lord Warwick was also one of the most important patrons of Canaletto while the Italian master was in England and commissioned no less than five views of the estate and Castle from him, as well as a series of drawings.