Francis Hayman (1708-76)
This is Hayman’s only self-portrait painted on a large scale
The newly discovered work is an unfinished self-portrait by Francis Hayman, one of the leading English artists of the mid-eighteenth century. Hayman was at the forefront of a generation of artists which finally saw English painters shrug off the dominance of those foreign masters, from Holbein to Kneller, who had been imported by the court to make up for the perceived deficiencies of English art. With William Hogarth at their head, these new artists set about creating a new school of English art, one which would later came to be exemplified by the likes of Thomas Gainsborough, whom Hayman taught, and whose early works are deeply influenced by Hayman’s small figures in landscapes.
This confident and engaging self-portrait, dated by Professor Brian Allen to the mid-1730s, shows Hayman at the outset of his successful practice in London (shortly before he encountered the young Gainsborough) and is his only self-portrait painted on a large scale. Other examples are in the National Portrait Gallery and the Royal Albert Museum, Exeter. Like many unfinished self-portraits, the picture was ‘completed’ by a later artist or restorer with the addition of a jacket and a dark background. Fortunately, removal of the over-paint was a straightforward exercise and the work can once more be seen as Hayman left it.
Hayman’s more relaxed portrait style found particular favour amongst the new middle classes, who were free of the political and dynastic imperatives faced by the aristocracy and their occasionally stiff Kneller-like portraits by artists such as Thomas Hudson. By contrast, Hayman, with his small, well-arranged figures in genteel settings, celebrated the easy and enjoyable life of the urban well to-do. The Tate’s recent acquisition of the portrait of the novelist Samuel Richardson surrounded by his Family, 1740-1, is a typical example of Hayman’s style, with the harmonious landscape in which the sitters are placed echoing a town-dweller’s conception of harmless nature, and recalling the idyllic and artificial rus in urbe of London’s pleasure gardens such as those at Vauxhall. In fact, much of Hayman’s fame derived from his work for Jonathan Tyers, the founder of Vauxhall gardens; he was commissioned to paint most of the large decorative paintings for the private supper boxes at Vauxhall.
Hayman is also regarded as the foremost English exponent of rococo painting, a style popularised in England in the early eighteenth century by émigré painters such as Hubert Gravelot (1699 – 1773). In mid-eighteenth century England, the rococo style acquired a particular significance as an alternative to the stern severity of neo-Palladianism. The rococo emphasised the more graceful curved line, and suggested entertainment rather than classical dignity. As a style it was a perfect vehicle for expressing the new spirit of the 1740s and 50s, in which the urban classes found increasing prosperity, and opportunities for pleasure and patronage. As a modem artistic movement, it was typically the discerning urban bourgeois who formed its most appreciative and discriminating audience.