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THE STREATHAM PORTRAITS.
MADAME D'ARBLAY's description of the Streatham Portraits will be the best preface to the following verses on them: "Mrs. Thrale and her eldest daughter were in one piece, over the fireplace (of the library), at full length. The rest of the pictures were all three-quarters. Mr. Thrale was over the door leading to his study. The general collection then began by Lord Sandys and Lord Westcote (Lyttelton), two early noble friends of Mr. Thrale. Then followed Dr. Johnson, Mr. Burke, Dr. Goldsmith, Mr. Murphy, Mr. Garrick, Mr. Baretti, Sir. Robert Chambers, and Sir Joshua Reynolds himself, all painted in the highest style of this great master, who much delighted in this his Streatham gallery. There was place left but for one more frame when the acquaintance with Dr. Burney began at Streatham.”
The whole of them were sold by auction in the spring of 1816. According to Mrs. Piozzi's marked catalogue, they fetched respectively the following prices, which appear to vary according to the celebrity of the subjects, and to make small account of the pictures considered as works of art: "Lord Sandys, £ 36 15s. (Lady Downshire); Lord Lyttelton, £ 43 1s. (Mr. Lyttelton, his son); Mrs. Piozzi and her daughter, £81 18s. (S. Boddington, Esq., a rich merchant); Goldsmith (duplicate of the original), £133 7s. (Duke of Bedford); Sir J. Reynolds, £ 128 2s. (R. Sharp, Esq., M.P.); Sir R. Chambers, £84 (Lady Chambers, his widow); David Garrick, £ 183 15s. (Dr. Charles Burney); Baretti, £31 10s. (Stewart, Esq., I know not who); Dr. Burney, £84 (Dr. C. Burney, his son); Edmund Burke, £ 252 (R. Sharp, Esq., M.P.); Dr. Johnson, £378 (Watson Taylor, Esq.), by whom for Mr. Murphy was offered £ 102 18s., but I bought it in." In 1780 Reynolds raised the price of his portraits (three-quarter size) from thirty-five to fifty guineas, which, Mrs. Piozzi complains, made the Streatham portraits in many instances cost more than they fetched, as she had to pay for them after Mr.
Thrale's death at the increased price.
Her own prefatory
"With the dismal years 1772 and 1773 ended much of my misery, no doubt. The recollection of the sweet and saintlike manner in which my incomparable mother meekly laid down her temporal existence, sweetened the loss of her who I shall see no more in this world, and whose situation in the next will probably be too high for my most fervent aspirations. The loss of our dear boy fell so heavy on my husband, that it became my duty to endure it courageously, and shake away as much of the weight as it was possible. Among other efforts to amuse myself and my eldest daughter, now my daily companion, and a charming one, but never partial to a mother who sought in vain to obtain her friendship, - was a fancy I took of writing little paltry verse characters of the gentlemen who sat for their portraits in the library, and of whose sittings I was cruelly impatient. No wonder! when such calamity was hanging over our heads as is mentioned in the last volume. Let that reflection make you hesitate in censuring the satirical vein which perhaps does run through them all:
LORD SANDYS appears first, at the head of the tribe,
But flat insipidity who can describe?
When such parents and wife as might check even Pindar,
To fling off their burden, and break off their chain,
Next him on the right hand, see Lyttelton hang;
With power well matured, with science well bred,
Of his long wheaten straw that the farmer complains,
In these features * so placid, so cool, so serene,
Of a virgin so tender,† the face or the fame
*She complained in prose as well as in verse of the want of likeness in her own portrait. Northcote, in his Life of Reynolds, observed of Sir Joshua's pictures in general, that "they possess a degree of merit superior to mere portraits; they assume the rank of history. His portraits of men are distinguished by a certain air of dignity, and those of women and children by a grace, a beauty, and simplicity which have seldom been equalled and never surpassed. In his attempts to give character where it did not exist, he has sometimes lost likeness, but the deficiencies of the portrait were often compensated by the beauty of the picture." Mrs. Piozzi remarks on this passage: "True, in my portrait above all, there is really no resemblance, and the character is less like my father's daughter than Pharaoh's." Speaking of Sir Joshua's picture of Lady Sarah Bunbury "sacrificing to the Graces," Mrs. Piozzi says: "Lady Sarah never did sacrifice to the Graces. Her beauty was in her face, which had few equals; but she was a cricket player, and ate beefsteaks upon the Steyne at Brighthelmstone."
Her eldest daughter, then a child.
A manner so studied, so vacant a face,
A mind which, though ductile, has dignity too.
A mind in which mirth may with merit reside,
Till the faults you grow fond of, the follies you love,
From our Goldsmith's anomalous character, who
Till the student no more sees the figure that shocked her,
Of Reynolds all good should be said, and no harm; Though the heart is too frigid, the pencil too warm; Yet each fault from his converse we still must disclaim, As his temper 't is peaceful, and pure as his fame.
Nothing in it o'erflows, nothing ever is wanting,
It nor chills like his kindness, nor glows like his painting.
In this luminous portrait, requiring no shade,
Here Garrick's loved features our mem'ry may trace,
See Thrale from intruders defending his door,
While he wishes his house would with people run o'er;