Ozias Humphry RA (1742-1810)
Humphry left home at the age of 15 to become apprenticed to a Bath miniaturist...
Having left home to become apprenticed to a Bath miniaturist in 1757, Humphry was forced to set up shop on his own when his teacher fled to Ireland to avoid his creditors. Given, however, Humphry’s precocity and evident talent, this did not prove the hindrance that it might have done for a less gifted artist. Through his roommate – the composer Thomas Linley – Humphry became acquainted with the titans of eighteenth-century English portraiture, Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds, the study of whose work provided an important finishing school for the young Humphry. Moving to London in 1764, Humphry quickly established a bustling trade as a miniaturist. From 1765, he exhibited at the Society of Artists, becoming a member in 1773. His professional success was cemented when, in 1766, George III purchased his miniature of John Mealing. Following this, he became highly-favoured by royal patrons, with sitters including Queen Charlotte and Charlotte, the Princess Royal.
At the time of his greatest professional success, however, Humphry suffered the greatest misfortune in his personal affairs. Rebuffed by Charlotte Paine in 1771 (sister of the architect James Paine), Humphry felt lost and disillusioned and left England in 1773 to pursue a four year Grand Tour with his friend the portraitist George Romney. In Italy, Humphry’s attentions increasingly turned to oil painting and it was as a painter of full-length portraits in oils that Humphry sought to reinvent himself on his return to London, this to the considerable consternation of his friends. Although in 1779 he was elected as an Associate of the Royal Academy – Academician status was to come in 1791 – Humphry felt that his professional opportunities were limited on his native soil. Thus, in 1785 the artist left for Calcutta. An uneasy couple of years followed in which Humphry found himself constantly looking over his shoulder to watch for the rivalry of established Madras-based miniaturist, John Smart. Never quite acquiring the success that he had hoped for – and that Smart achieved – Humphry returned to England in 1787. He initially returned to work as a miniaturist, yet in the 1790s this became increasingly untenable. His rapidly deteriorating eyesight caused his sitters to express their dissatisfaction at the quality of his likenesses. Although in 1792 Humphry was made portrait painter in crayon to the King, this had been secured through professional connections and belied the declining quality of his output. By 1797, Humphry had become almost totally blind. Robbed of his sight – the most vital tool of his profession – Humphry was forced into an unhappy retirement and died, impoverished, in 1810.