This skillfully executed portrait of the architect Sir William Chambers shows the sitter at the age of 38, dressed in a plum coat with green lapels. A similar pastel version of the portrait, also by artist Francis Cotes and dated 1764, is in the collection of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. There is also a third example, another pastel by Cotes, in the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). The RIBA version shows considerably less of Chambers and shows him in a different coloured coat.~
An article published in ‘The Connoisseur’ in 1934 points out that this oil painting is the version most like the mezzotint of the portrait, by Irish engraver Richard Houston (1721/2-1775), which was published in 1772. Author, Robert A. Riches, argues that it is likely to be the original version, stating confidently: ‘it seems beyond doubt that Houston’s mezzotint was made from the painting’. Riches was Chief Librarian at the Bar Library, before being appointed Curator of Pictures at the Royal Courts of Justice. He may have been bias because he owned this work in 1934, selling it through Christie's in London two years later.
Portrait painter Francis Cotes was born in London; the son of a pharmacist and elder brother of the miniaturist Samuel Cotes. He was probably the most accomplished 18th-century British artist in the medium of pastels. From about 1757 he began to produce more work in oils. The drapery in his oil portraits was often painted by Peter Toms, who also worked for Sir Joshua Reynolds. Cotes became a founder member of the Royal Academy of Arts and exhibited 18 portraits at the Academy’s first two exhibitions of 1769 and 1770. However, by 1770 he was suffering from either kidney stones or gallstones. In the hope of dissolving them, Cotes drank a soap-based potion, which led to his death, by poisoning, on 19 July 1770.
Sir William Chambers (1726-1796) Architect of Somerset House
Oil on canvas
height: 59.00 cm, width: 45.50 cm
Purchased from Christie's 27 May 1936
Collection of 'R. G. Riches'; whom sold through Chrisitie's, London, on 27 May 1936 (Lot 32; with 'a framed print by R. Houston' - untraced); from which sale purchased by W. S. Thompson on behalf of the Office of Works
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