Nathaniel Dance, Later Sir Nathaniel Dance Holland MP, 1st Bart. (1735-1811)
This portrait was painted a few years after Dance returned from Rome, where he impressed Pompeo Batoni, whose influence was to have a lasting effect on Dance...
This elegant portrait of Jane Pelham by Nathaniel Dance was, until recently, obscured by layers of dirt and discoloured varnish. With these layers now removed, we can once again observe the bold rococo colouring characteristic of Dance’s work.
Jane Hardinge was born in 1740 and was the daughter of Nicholas Hardinge, Clerk to the House of Commons and minor Augustan poet. Jane married Henry Pelham in 1767 and together the couple took the additional surname of Cressett when Henry inherited the estates of his niece, Miss Cressett, in 1792. Henry and Jane had three children - John, Anne and Frances; John, their only son, was well-known for his eccentricities, and in 1801 his political career was interrupted when a commission of lunacy was taken out against him.
This portrait was painted c.1770, a few years after Dance returned from Rome, and is one of a number of portraits of the Hardinge and Cressett Pelham family Dance painted around this date. A portrait of Jane’s brother George, for example, was previously with Philip Mould & Co, and a portrait of Jane’s husband Henry is in a private collection.
Whilst in Italy, Dance, like so many of his contemporaries, focussed on history painting, however his talents for portrait painting soon caught the attention of Pompeo Batoni (1708-87), who influence was to have a lasting effect on Dance. It was in Rome too that Dance developed deep feelings towards painter Angelica Kaufman, and where the two apparently determined to marry on their return to London in the 1760s – though sadly the union never occurred, much to Dance’s chagrin.
Once back in London, Dance established a successful portrait practice and continued to paint the colourful and expressive portraits for which he had become renowned during his time in Italy. In 1776 Dance stopped exhibiting at the Royal Academy and in 1783 he married a wealthy widow and relocated to Kent. Over the following years Dance focussed on his political career, and in 1790, the year he resigned his membership at the Royal Academy, he was elected as an M.P for East Grinstead, Sussex. He became a Baronet in 1800. In a curious reflection of the relatively low social status of artists in the early nineteenth century, Dance took care to disassociate himself with his artistic past, destroying many of his works, and exhibiting only the occasional landscape at the Royal Academy (in the catalogues of which he was listed in all cases, as ‘a gentleman’). Dance saw his great talent as a mere trade and thus the work of Britain’s first neo-classical artist has become less well-known than it otherwise should have been.
 Sir J.B. Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain & Ireland, (London, 1871), p.1070.