Joseph Wright of Derby, A.R.A. (Derby 1734-1797)
These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY OF AN AMERICAN COLLECTOR
Joseph Wright of Derby, A.R.A. (Derby 1734-1797)

Portrait of Old John, Head Waiter at the King's Head Inn in Derby, half-length, in a painted oval

Joseph Wright of Derby, A.R.A. (Derby 1734-1797)
Portrait of Old John, Head Waiter at the King's Head Inn in Derby, half-length, in a painted oval
oil on canvas
30 ¼ x 25 ¼ in. (77 x 64.2 cm.)
Commissioned from the artist, probably by the sitter, and listed in the artist's Account Book as 'Old John at the King's Head Raffled for & paid ?12.12',
Sold in a raffle at Derby Town Hall, where acquired by,
Daniel Parker Coke, MP (d. 1825).
Joseph Strutt (1765-1844), Derby, by 1835, and by descent through,
Edward Strutt, 1st Baron Belper (1801-1880), Kingston Hall, Northamptonshire,
The Hon. Henry Strutt, 2nd Baron Belper (1840- 1914), Kingston Hall, Northamptonshire,
Algernon Strutt, 3rd Baron Belper (1883-1956), Kingston Hall, Northamptonshire,
The Hon. Peter Algernon Strutt (1924-2007), Kingston Hall, Northamptonshire.
with Agnew's, London, 1985-6.
Anonymous sale [The Property of a Gentleman]; Sotheby's, London, 19 November 1986, lot 54 (?19,800).
Zankel/West collection, New York.
J. Strutt, A Catalogue of the Paintings and the collection of Joseph Strutt, Derby, 1835, no. 66.
W. Bemrose, The Life and Works of Joseph Wright A.R.A., London, 1885, pp. 10 and 120.
B. Nicholson, Joseph Wright of Derby: Painter of Light, Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art, London, 1968, I, p. 233, no. 182.
J. Egerton (ed.), Wright of Derby, exhibition catalogue, London, 1990, p. 215, no. 140.
E.E. Barker, ‘Documents relating to Joseph Wright 'of Derby' (1734-97)’, The Volume of the Walpole Society, LXXI, 2009, pp. 15, 53 and 195.
G. Waterhouse and A. French (eds.), Below Stairs, 400 years of servants' portraits, London, 2004, pp. 50 and 78.
Derby, Derby Art Gallery, Midland Counties Exhibition, May 1870, no. 800.
Derby, Derby Corporation Art Gallery, Paintings by Joseph Wright...with some Original Drawings and a complete Collection of Prints, 1883, no. 106.
Derby, Derby Corporation Art Gallery, Bi- Centenary Exhibition of the Works of Wright of Derby, 1934, no. 91.
Special notice
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Lot Essay

In 1780, Wright of Derby’s account book records the commission for ‘Old John at the King’s Head Raffled for & paid £12.12’. It is likely that the proceeds of the raffle would have gone to support Old John after a lifetime of faithful service as the head waiter at the King’s Head, one of Derby’s two main coaching inns. This makes the work an incredibly rare instance of a servant's portrait being commissioned for the benefit of the sitter. The only other notable example being Thomas Gainsborough’s 1768 Portrait of Ignatius Sancho, commissioned by the Duchess of Montague and, it seems, offered as a gift to Sancho, in whose possession it remained.

Old John’s engaging portrait perfectly demonstrates Wright’s celebrated ability to manipulate light, bringing the character of his sitter to the fore. The warm glow highlights the sitter’s face, emphasising his intelligent, kindly expression, and picks out the brightness of the rose in his buttonhole, perhaps hinting at certain more poetic leanings in his personality. It was often the case that servant portraiture would depict a type rather than an individual. Servants were marked by the inclusion of the tools of their trade: the groom leading the horse, the maid wielding her broom. These were commissioned to celebrate loyalty and dedication to service, reducing the sitter to an idealised image of the archetypal trusty servant. However, as this work testifies, Wright and the other leading artists of his day such as Hogarth, Stubbs, Gainsborough and Romney treated servants as true subjects.

Stubbs’s Portrait of Thomas Smith (fig. 1; sold in these Rooms, 8 July 1998, lot 21), banksman to the 2nd Marquis of Rockingham, displays the same gift for perceptive portraiture as Wright’s Old John. The work is recorded as hanging in the antechamber to Lord Rockingham’s bedroom at Wentworth Woodhouse alongside Van Dyck’s double portrait of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford and his Secretary, Sir Philip Mainwaring. By employing the traditions associated with upper-class portraiture for more lowly subjects, artists ensured that these paintings could hold their own beside the grandest of works on the walls of Britain’s elite. In the case of Old John, the portrait was acquired at the raffle by Daniel Parker Coke, M.P., who in 1782 became the Commissioner for Settling American Claims, supporting loyalist Americans in the wake of the War of Independence. Coke himself sat for Wright, appearing in a triple portrait alongside his cousin Reverend D'Ewes Coke and the latter’s wife Hannah.

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