One of the most successful English portraitists of the early 18th Century, Richardson captured his sitter's likeness and form using an austere palette. Throughout his career he executed portraits of many distinguished gentlemen of the period including Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753), founder of the British Museum, and Alexander Pope (1688-1744), the poet. Richardson was, however, not only celebrated as a portraitist but also as an outstanding collector of drawings, and a prolific writer on art and connoisseurship. His Essay on the Theory of Painting was published in 1715, and in 1722 he published with his son An Account of the Statues and Bas-reliefs, Drawings and Pictures in Italy, with Remarks, which became an essential handbook for anyone on the Grand Tour, and is believed to have inspired Sir Joshua Reynolds to raise the standard of painting in Britain by close reference to classical sources.
At the sale of the younger Richardson's own remarkable drawings in February 1772, Horace Walpole commented on 'hundreds of portraits of both [father and son] in chalks by the father, with the dates when executed; for after his retirement from business the good old man seems to have amused himself with writing a short poem and drawing his own or his son's portrait every day' (H. Walpole, Anecdotes, IV, 1827, p. 29, in M. Rogers, Master Drawings from the National Portrait Gallery, London, 1993, p. 36). The present drawing is a particularly fine example of these portraits; in the 1987 sale it achieved one of the highest prices for a work on paper by the artist. Executed almost three hundred years ago, the paper has retained its vibrant blue colour and the pigments have remained fresh and unrubbed. A comparable self-portrait by Richardson in black and white chalk, dated 1735 and executed on blue paper like that of the present drawing, is in the National Portrait Gallery, London, and a comparable portrait of the artist's son is at the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard.