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Francis Cotes 1726 - 1770
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Francis Cotes 1726 - 1770

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Portrait of Martha Seymer as Modesty


Oil painting on canvas 30 x 25 inches (76 x 64cm. Contained in its original carved and gilded Georgian swept frame


Provenance: By family decent until the present.


Literature: Edward Mead Johnson Francis Cotes (Phaidon, 1976) cf. p.69 no.121


Francis Cotes was the son of a pharmacist, and the eldest brother of the miniaturist Samuel Cotes. He was apprenticed to the portrait painter George Knapton in the 1740's, and was at first confined to pastels, in which medium he is certainly the greatest English exponent of the 18th century. His first oil paintings dates from as late as 1753, and he did not seriously take up the medium until four years later. From 1765 he took a large house and studio at 32 Cavendish Square, and established himself as the first serious fashionable rival to Reynolds and Gainsborough. He was prominent in the Society of Artists and was a Foundation Member of the Royal Academy.

Another portrait of the sitter, in pastels on paper 23 ½ x 17 ½ inches, is recorded (loc. Cit.) by E M Johnson which is signed and dated 1763. It was in the Van Gelder sale, Geneva, Oct 7, 1933 (lot 94) but its present whereabouts are unrecorded. A dating of a few years earlier than 1763, probably to the second half of the 1750’s seems likely for the present painting both on the grounds of costume and the more restrained handling of the paint and sombre palette which Cotes used in his earlier years. The pose of the sitter is taken from the Venus Pudica which has its origin in classical times and which was used in the renaissance by, most notably, Botticelli. The original notion of the “Modest Venus” derives from Praxiteles’ 'Knidian Aphrodite', known as the 'Pudica'.

The pose seems to have had a renewed popularity in the period 1755-65, and was used, inter aliis, by Sir Joshua Reynolds (eg. Mrs Charles Proby (1759) Private Coll;.;Anne Dashwood Met. Mus. NY) Thomas Beech (Susannah Randolph Private Coll, Tokyo) Thomas Gainsborough (Mrs Leyborn (Bristol, City Art Gallery) and Isabella Countess of Sefton Private Coll)

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