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John Vanderbank 1694-1739
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John Vanderbank 1694-1739

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Three quarter length portrait of Martin Folkes DCL, PRS, PSA. (1690-1754)


Oil painting on canvas 50 x 40 inches, and contained within its original carved and giltwood frame


Signed and indistinctly dated 173(9 ?) on the base of the column, and inscribed (in a later 18th century hand): MARTIN FOLKES ESQ., P.R. & A.S.. OBIIT 1754 AE 63


Provenance: by descent from the sitter with the family of the ffolkes Baronets at Hillington Hall in Norfolk, (who in recent years lent it to Sir Roy Harrod) until acquired by us.


Literature: cf. Portraits in Norfolk Houses (Duleep Singh, Vol. I, page 245 et seq., sub Hillington Hall)
Early Georgian Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery (John Kerslake: HMSO, 1977, page 77, and 77n, sub “Iconography” of Martin Folkes)


The painting had remained in an exceptional state of preservation in its original frame and on its original strainer, and had apparently never previously been cleaned, lined or undergone conservation.

John Vanderbank was born in London on 9th September 1694; he died in the same City on 23rd December 1739. He was the son of a well-known tapestry weaver of good repute and like name. He was sent to study at Kneller's Academy at the age of 16 in 1711; from 1720 he studied with Cheron at the latter's academy in St Martin's Lane. He was a lively draughtsman, and his painterly virtuosity rivalled Hogarth's. His habits were intemperate: Vertue was of the view that he was only prevented by this from being the best portrait painter of his generation. He was never lacking in patronage amongst the cleverer members of London Society, and his output of sharply observed and vividly lit portraits divide him from the dull attenuated Augustan pomp of Kneller and his later followers. He also turned his hand to book illustration (notably the series for Don Quixote); these latter brought him a steady income from reproducing them as oil paintings. He died, aged, 43, before reaching the pinnacle of his career, leaving Hogarth without a London rival for thoughtful and analytical and lively portraiture.

Martin Folkes was born in Queen Street, Lincolns Inn Fields, the son of a liked-named lawyer of Gray's Inn and his wife Dorothy, daughter of Sir William Hovell of Hillington Hall, King's Lynn, Norfolk. He was educated at the universities of Saumur (“ a choice youth of a penetrating genius and master of the beauties of the best Roman and Greek writers” according to Capel, his tutor) and Cambridge (Clare Hall, where he was especially adept at mathematics, receiving his MA on 6th October 1717) and Oxford (D.C.L. July 1746). He had already been elected a fellow of the Royal Society at the age of 23 on 29th July 1714.

In 1722 he was appointed vice-president of the Royal Society, and frequently chaired meetings in the absence of the President, Sir Isaac Newton. He was a candidate for President on Newton's death in competition with Sir Hans Soane (who was successful), but succeeded the latter in 1741. In the following decade he submitted 10 papers to the Society, largely upon meteorology and astronomy; his resignation from the Presidency November 1752 followed a period of ill-health. He was elected a member of the French Academy in September 1742, in succession to Edmund Halley.

Folkes's interest were not only in the empirical and natural sciences, but also in history and archaeology. He was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1719, subsequently being elected vice-president and, from 1749 until his death, President. His enduring legacy to the Society was his publication at his own expense of a series of plates, which endeavoured to supply a thorough conspectus of English Gold and Silver coins, which proved highly popular with both numismatists and gentlemen of an antiquarian inclination. The plates which Folkes caused to be engraved were acquired by the Society, and subsequently republished in collected form in 1763.

Folkes was also a member of the Egyptian Club and the Spalding Society (1743). “He was a man of extensive knowledge, and is described as upright, modest and affable” (DNB). He died following a stroke on 28 June 1754, and was buried in the chancel of Hillington church; a monument to his memory was later (1792) erected in Westminster Abbey.


Martin Folkes made a very considerable contribution to the analysis and study of the English series of gold and silver coins. His plates from the 1736 edition were acquired and expanded by the Society of Antiquaries, and published in a sumptuous edition (see below) in 1763. The mark a high-water point in English coin illustration of the period, with detailed copperplate engravings of the obverse and reverse of many of the scarcest coins of the early medieval to the late 17th century.



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