Sebastien Gratise (fl.1790-95)
This fascinating self-portrait by the French-born portraitist was painted whilst he was in England seeking refuge during the French Revolution. Nevertheless Gratise portrays himself in a rather grand manner…
Self-portraits were (and still are) an invaluable method of self-promotion for artists seeking patronage. A successful portrait captures not just a physical likeness but also a penetrating insight of character, something which can only effectively be translated into two-dimensional format through a clear familiarisation with the subject. Naturally, therefore, self-portraits are often the most visually gratifying and insightful demonstrations of an artist’s capability, and were often shown to potential clients in the artist’s studio or flaunted at exhibitions.
This portrait therefore takes on a more important role within Gratise’s career and plays a central role in his struggle to gain recognition and support in his new place of residence. His address at this date – Great Windmill Street and then later Pall Mall, suggests that his bold decision to relocate to London was not in vain - Pall Mall became somewhat of an artistic hub around this date with a number of highly successful painters including Thomas Gainsborough and Richard Cosway living there.
Gratise portrays himself in a rather grand manner, wearing a fur-collared robe with white tied cravat and his hair powdered. He has placed himself in front of a Roman column - almost certainly a visual throw-back to the great artists of the classical age, wrapped with a luminescent turquoise drape – a colour not often used by his English contemporaries at this period.
Gratise exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1791 and at the Royal Academy of Arts, as an Academician, from 1790 until 1795. As well as working with watercolour on ivory, Gratise was also a pastellist. From 1800 he appears to have left England and became painter to the Elector in Cologne.