Gallery

Gallery: 
Francis Cotes, 1726 - 1770
Portrait of a Gentleman Huntsman wearing a Green Coat trimmed with Gold Fringe, Holding a Hunting Whip
A Gentleman Huntsman wearing a Green Coat
oil on canvas
76.20 x 63.50 cm. (30 x 25 in.)
Price: 
£4700

Description

in a darwood carved Frame

Artist biography

Cotes, Francis (1726–1770), portrait painter, was born on 20 May 1726 in the Strand, London, the eldest of four children of Robert Cotes (d. 1774), apothecary and former mayor of Galway, and his second wife, Elizabeth (b. c.1700, d. after 1775), daughter of Francis Lynn, chief secretary to the Royal African Company. Cotes's great-grandfather John Cotes held estates in Leicestershire, which he was forced to forfeit during the civil war, owing to his royalist allegiance. He moved to co. Roscommon, Ireland, where Cotes's grandfather, John, was born. The family retained strong English connections that resulted in Francis Cotes's father being appointed mayor of Galway by the crown. In 1717 he was tried for treason by the Irish parliament, and subsequently by Queen Anne's council, for failure to uphold the English government's repressive policy against the Roman Catholic community. Upon his acquittal, his political career over, he set up business in London, as an apothecary. His first marriage was to Anne Fowler, who died on 11 December 1722, their infant son Robert dying the following March. At the time of Francis Cotes's birth his father was living in the Strand, Francis's baptism being recorded on 29 May 1726 at the newly built church of St Mary-le-Strand. Following Cotes's birth, the family moved to Cork Street, Burlington Gardens, in Mayfair. Three further children were born: Robert, who died in infancy, Samuel Cotes (1734–1818), and a daughter, Frances-Maria, who also died in infancy.

Early years, 1741–1757

It is conjectured that Cotes entered into an apprenticeship with the painter George Knapton, about the time of his fifteenth birthday (Johnson, 2). In addition to learning his trade Cotes was probably introduced to the work of the old masters, Knapton having a reputation as a connoisseur as well as an artist with fashionable aristocratic connections. Indeed, it may have been at this time that Cotes painted a copy of ‘the Virgin and Child in crayons from Guido’, which he bequeathed to Knapton in his will. During the 1740s Knapton worked in oils and in crayons, then a fashionable medium for portraiture, influenced particularly by the Venetian pastellist Rosalba Carriera. Cotes had probably completed his apprenticeship with Knapton by 1747, the year of his first known signed and dated works, pastels of an unknown gentleman (Leicestershire Museums and Art Galleries) and Miss Catherine Wilson (priv. coll.). Cotes appears to have concentrated exclusively on pastels throughout the remainder of the 1740s and well into the 1750s. From the outset Cotes's clientele included distinguished members of the whig aristocracy, including Lady Georgiana Lennox, mother of Charles James Fox (1748; priv. coll.), Lord Carysfort (1751; priv. coll.), and the Hon. George Keppel, later third earl of Albemarle (1752; priv. coll.). At that time Cotes also painted pastel portraits of the Irish Gunning family, notably the sisters Maria and Elizabeth, then celebrated for their great beauty, and subsequently countess of Coventry and duchess of Hamilton and Argyll (NPG). Both portraits were engraved in mezzotint by James MacArdell in 1752, and offered for sale to the public from Cotes's father's house in Cork Street, which he then presumably used as a gallery to promote his work.

The middle period, 1757–1765

By the mid-1750s Cotes's pastel portraits assumed a greater sense of naturalism and individual character. In this he was particularly influenced by the Swiss painter Jean-Étienne Liotard (then working in England), and also by the German Anton-Raphael Mengs and the Frenchman Maurice-Quentin de la Tour. From this period date Cotes's portraits of Louis François Roubiliac (c.1757; priv. coll.), of Dr William Bromfield, and of his father (both 1757; RA). Cotes's opinions on technical aspects of pastels and their preservation are contained in an undated short paper he wrote on the subject, which was published posthumously by the European Magazine in 1797.

Cotes's first recorded oil painting, a signed and dated portrait of an unknown lady (priv. coll.), dates from 1753. However, its quality is poor compared to his pastels of the same period, and he resisted further forays into the medium at that time. Several years later Cotes was particularly impressed by the Scots artist Allan Ramsay, who returned to London from Italy in 1757, promoting a style of oil painting which sought to imitate the soft, velvety texture of pastels. Indeed, it was probably the influence of Ramsay, and his success in court circles, that persuaded Cotes to work increasingly in oils. When he took up oils again in the later 1750s Cotes quickly became accomplished in this medium, as demonstrated by his portrait of his fellow artist Paul Sandby, seated drawing by an open window (1759; Tate Collection). In 1760 Cotes exhibited at the inaugural exhibition of the Society of Artists, where he showed two portraits in oils and two in pastels. These included a pastel of the eminent royal physician Sir Edward Hulse (priv. coll.) and an oil painting of Anne Sandby, wife of Paul Sandby, in a landscape setting. This was engraved by Edward Fisher in 1763 as The Nut-Brown Maid, from the poem by Matthew Prior. During the 1760s Cotes continued to exhibit at the Society of Artists, his portraiture by now increasingly influenced by Joshua Reynolds. Cotes's portraits retained their own distinct decorative, rococo air, although his colours became bolder and less subtle, while his female portraits, as with Reynolds, often appeared in ‘timeless’ classical garments. This can be seen, for example, in his double full-length portrait, Lady Stanhope and Lady Effingham as Diana and her Companion (1765; York City Art Gallery), and his full-length portrait The Duchess of Hamilton as Venus, Queen of Beauty (1767; priv. coll.).

In 1763 Cotes took a lease on a house at 32 Cavendish Square. Situated on the south side of the square, it was described in the sale catalogue after his death as a ‘Large and commodious House, With an elegant Suite of Five Rooms on the First Floor, and Coach Houses and Stabling’ (Johnson, 156). The house, situated in a fashionable part of London, was remodelled by Cotes to include, in addition to his own studio, a room for pupils to paint in, and a gallery or ‘Shew Room’. Two other prominent artists, George Romney and Sir Martin Archer Shee, subsequently leased it to use as their studio. Cotes had at least two pupils, John Russell and John Milbourne. Although Cotes and Russell became friends, Russell's excessive religious zeal apparently disrupted his master's household. Owing to the volume of work Cotes also now began to employ an assistant, Peter Toms, to paint the clothing in his oil portraits, although not his pastels. Toms was a professional ‘drapery’ painter, who had already been employed extensively by Reynolds in the 1750s. By this time Cotes apparently charged between 20 and 80 guineas for his portraits; less than Reynolds but more than Thomas Gainsborough. He increased his prices once more in 1768. In May 1764 Cotes was being favourably compared with Reynolds, ‘and greatly to his Honour be it said, that he generally preserves a beautiful Correctness in his Pictures, which the latter Master too often neglects’ (Public Advertiser, 2 May 1764). Just before his death in October 1764, Hogarth apparently told the painter Edward Edwards that Cotes ‘excelled Reynolds as a portrait painter’ (E. Edwards, Anecdotes of Painters who have Resided or been Born in England, 1808, facs. edn, 1970, 34). Even so, as it has since been pointed out, Cotes's interest in emulating Reynolds's grand-manner portraiture remained superficial, undertaken principally to appeal to current fashion rather than from any inner conviction (Johnson, 19).

During the 1760s Cotes continued to paint in pastels as well as oils, although unlike Reynolds he preferred to portray his female sitters in contemporary costume, such as Maria, Dowager Countess of Waldegrave (1764; priv. coll.), and Laura Keppel (c.1764; priv. coll.). By the mid-1760s Cotes was also gaining popularity as a painter of children, in both oils and pastels. Often he depicted them with a toy or plaything, for example, Selina Chambers cradling a doll (1764; V&A), Lewis Cage with a cricket bat (1768; priv. coll.), or Frances Lee with a knotted handkerchief in the shape of a rabbit (1769; Milwaukee Art Center Collection, Wisconsin). Cotes's male adult portraits of this period are often less successful than his women or children, relying on formulaic compositions, the subject invariably standing or leaning upon a cane in a parkland setting. Among such works are four portraits of Sir Francis Burdett in the same pose but in different-coloured clothing, presumably commissioned to hang in different rooms of his manor house (Johnson, 23). All but one (Ferens Art Gallery, Hull) appear to be largely the work of Cotes's drapery painter.

Later works, 1765–1770

In 1765 Cotes married. Nothing is known about his wife other than her name, Sarah, and her physical appearance. He painted her portrait on at least two occasions, exhibiting a pastel of her with a small dog at the Royal Academy in 1770. Little is known of Cotes's private life, although he was evidently known by his fellow artists as Frank rather than Francis (Farington, Diary, 2.506). Aside from Knapton, Cotes was close to the watercolourist Paul Sandby and the sculptor Joseph Wilton, whom he remembered in his will as his ‘worthy friend’. He was also friendly with the society hostess Mrs Hester Thrale, who later recalled being on ‘very intimate’ terms with him. On one occasion she mischievously asked the identity of a woman in one of his portraits, ‘who is as eminent for her Ugliness methinks, as any one here for her Beauty’; to which Cotes replied with alarm: ‘'tis my own Wife, it is indeed; & I have been married to her but a fortnight’ (K. C. Balderston, Thraliana: the Diary of Mrs. Hester Lynch Thrale, 1942, 1, 268). Cotes's surviving portraits of his wife portray her as not unattractive. The couple had no children, Mrs Cotes being her husband's executrix at his death and the chief beneficiary of his estate. Cotes's self-portrait in pastels, which he bequeathed to his father, is untraced, as is the large miniature painted by his brother, Samuel, from memory after his death. Two other portraits are known; an engraved profile head of 1768 by D. P. Pariset after a drawing by the French artist Pierre Falconet, and a drawing of him seated, reading a book, ascribed to Paul Sandby. In the former Cotes's face is plump, the nose long and pointed, with a slightly receding chin, although in the latter work, which dates from 1755 (Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery), he presents an altogether leaner, more handsome, figure.

In 1765 Cotes was one of nine signatories to a petition to George III requesting a royal charter for the Society of Artists, an indication of his senior position within the organization. From this time Cotes concentrated increasingly on oil portraits at the expense of pastels, although he continued to produce some of his finest works in this medium, including a head-and-shoulders portrait of Admiral Augustus Keppel, exhibited at the Society of Artists in 1765 (priv. coll.) and Lady Frances Hoare at a spinning wheel (c.1766–70; Stourhead House, Wiltshire). Although he continued to emulate Reynolds's grand manner, Cotes's preference was for more informal images. These are exemplified by his full-length portrait of Sir Griffith Boynton, casually standing by a casement, book in hand (1769; priv. coll., USA), and Mr and Mrs William Earle Welby playing chess, exhibited at the inaugural exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1769 (priv. coll.).

In 1767 Cotes began to attract royal patronage, resulting in a series of female portraits in oils and pastels. These included portraits of Princess Caroline Matilda (1766; priv. coll.), Princess Louisa, and two large double portraits, Queen Charlotte with Charlotte Princess Royal and Princess Louisa and Princess Caroline (the latter subsequently married Christian IV of Denmark (Royal Collection). Although the subjects were depicted in elaborate court dresses, they retain an air of intimacy, conveyed through a series of informal gestures, Queen Charlotte gesturing the viewer not to wake her sleeping child on her lap, Princess Caroline Matilda touching her sister on the shoulder in a show of affection. With the express permission of the queen Cotes exhibited a pastel version of her portrait with Princess Charlotte at the Society of Artists in 1767, insisting that it be hung in a prime position. The king and queen came to the exhibition especially to see Cotes's portrait, causing one critic to proclaim:

How happy Cotes? Thy skill shall shine,
Unrivall'd in thy class, almost divine;
For royal Charlotte's finish'd form is thine!
(London Chronicle, 5–7 May 1767)

This picture also prompted Horace Walpole to comment in his Royal Academy catalogue, ‘Cotes succeeded much better in crayons than in oils’ (Johnson, 46). It was perhaps not a coincidence that Reynolds refrained from exhibiting that year, presumably piqued at the favouritism shown by the royal family towards Cotes.

On 11 June 1768 John Russell recorded in his diary that Cotes was ill, suffering from ‘the stone’, either kidney or gallstones, an illness from which he had apparently suffered for some years. Russell noted that Cotes intended that week ‘to go under the severe operation of being cut’ (Johnson, 42). The operation was partially successful, allowing Cotes to continue painting for another two years. In August 1768 Cotes, along with other directors, resigned his membership of the Society of Artists. Over the next few months, together with Sir William Chambers, Benjamin West and George Moser, Cotes drew up plans for a Royal Academy of Arts. Their paper was presented by Cotes to the king, who gave his approval in December 1768 [see Founders of the Royal Academy of Arts]. Cotes, who was elected onto the council of the Royal Academy, showed eighteen portraits there in the first two exhibitions of 1769 and 1770. These included portraits of the dukes of Gloucester (1769) and Cumberland (1770).

On 16 June 1769 Cotes drew up his will, witnessed by Peter Toms and his pupil John Milbourne. In the summer of 1770 Cotes, by now clearly in great pain, ingested a soap-based potion in order to dissolve his kidney or gallstones. The concoction poisoned him. He died on Thursday 19 July 1770 at Richmond, Surrey. He was buried there, on 25 July, at the parish church of St Mary Magdalene. John Russell noted in his diary that, although Cotes's death was not unexpected, ‘yet the news affected me much that a man full of worldly honour and pride with schemes of Business should be cut off without leaving any Marks of knowing the salvation of Jesus’ (Johnson, 44). Cotes's fellow academician, Mary Moser, reported the news of Cotes's death to the artist Henry Fuseli in Rome: ‘Many a tear will drop on his grave, as he is not more lamented as an artist than a friend to the distressed’ (Fuseli,The Collected English Letters of Henry Fuseli ed. D. H. Weinglass, 1982, 12). Cotes's will was proved on 30 July 1770, his trustees being Joseph Wilton and the wealthy amateur painter Theodosius Forrest. Cotes's principal beneficiaries were his wife, his parents, and his brother, Samuel. On 21–3 and 25 February 1771 Cotes's wife sold the house in Cavendish Square and its contents at auction through Langford & Son of Covent Garden.

Martin Postle  DNB