Antonio Canova was one of the greatest artists of the neoclassical tradition and is known primarily for his sculptures. Included in this portrait is a model for his famous sculpture of 'The Three Graces', a version of which was made for John Russell, the sixth Duke of Bedford, who commissioned this portrait. Hayter met the Italian sculptor in Rome, where this portrait was painted in 1817, while he was travelling in Italy under the patronage of the Duke of Bedford. By this time, Canova had become one of the most sought-after artists in Europe and was the president of the Accademia di San Luca, the main artistic institution in Rome, to which Hayter was admitted as its youngest ever member.
This portrait hangs in the official residence of the British Ambassador in Paris, which was originally occupied as such by the Duke of Wellington in the years immediately following the conclusion of the Napoleonic Wars. Before the house was purchased by the British government, it had been the home of Pauline Borghese, the sister of Napoleon, who Canova had portrayed as Venus Victorius. In 1815 Canova was sent to Paris by Pope Pius VII to negotiate the return of art removed from Italy during the Napoleonic campaigns. He was a frequent visitor to the British Embassy, to the very house in which this portrait is now displayed, and was aided in his mission by the Duke of Wellington. On his return to Rome, Canova was made Marchese d'Ischia by the Pope in recognition of his efforts to secure the return of works of art. Hayter was appointed Principal Painter-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria in 1841 and was knighted the following year.
George Hayter was born in London. He entered the Royal Academy Schools in 1808 and later taught drawing and painting to Princess Charlotte, daughter of the Prince Regent. In 1815 he was made Painter of Miniatures and Portraits to Charlotte and her husband, Prince Leopold. In the next year he travelled to Italy with the support of the Duke of Bedford and entered the Accademia di San Luca as its youngest ever member. Although Hayter returned to London in 1818, he moved back to Italy in 1826 and was in Paris from 1828 to 1831. Hayter settled in England in the early 1830s, was appointed Principal Painter-in-Ordinary to Queen Victoria in 1841 and knighted the following year. Despite his successes, he was never admitted to the Royal Academy.
Commissioned from the artist by John, 6th Duke of Bedford; thence by descent in the family; with T. Roger & Co.; by whom sold through Christie's, London, on 23 July 1954 (Lot 140); from which sale purchased by Richard Walker on behalf of the Ministry of Works
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