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John Downman - Portrait of Charles Chadwick [1753 - 1829]

John Downman

Portrait of Charles Chadwick [1753 - 1829]

Oil on copper: 9.1(h) x 7.6(w) in / 23.2(h) x 19.4(w) cm
Signed and dated 1779

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BS 225



Ruabon, North Wales 1750 – 1824 Wrexham


Portrait of Charles Chadwick (1753-1829) of Emmanuel College, Cambridge


Signed and dated lower right: J.Downman / Pinxt / 1779

Oil on copper: 9 1/8 by 7 5/8 in / 23.3 by 19.4 cm

Frame size: 14 ½ x 13 in / 36.8 x 33 cm



The Rev. Henry Madan Pratt, MP, JP (1856-1934), Southern House, Cheltenham;

his sale, Christie’s London, 23rd May 1930, lot 144 (26gns to Jones);

H Burton-Jones, London

Mrs K Gifford Scott;

her estate sale, Sotheby’s London, 14th March 1984, lot 54 (£5,280);

Spink, London, 1984;

from whom acquired by a private collector, UK



John Downman is now best known for his small, oval portraits in black chalk and stump, drawn on very thin paper and tinted with watercolour on the reverse to give the effect of translucent skin tones. In the earlier part of his career, however, he often worked in oil on panel or copper. From 1777 to 1779 Downman lived in Cambridge, obtaining his portrait clientèle from among the academics and students. It was said that he initially set up his easel in college gardens to attract custom[1]. Cambridge students, usually from wealthy and well-connected families, provided many of the contacts from which sprang Downman’s flourishing London career, from 1779 to 1804.


The elegant young Charles Chadwick is shown outside the long façade of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. Chadwick was admitted to Emmanuel in 1771 and to the Middle Temple in 1775; he gained his LL.B in 1778. This oil on copper is based on a chalk drawing of 1778[2] in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, perhaps commissioned to celebrate the awarding of Chadwick’s degree.


The Chadwick family had a long association with Emmanuel College. Charles Chadwicke, Chaplain to Elizabeth I and James I, was among its first dons at the college’s founding in 1585 and became Dean in 1587. The family had estates at Mavesyn Ridware in Staffordshire, Healey Hall near Rochdale and Sladen near Littleborough, Lancashire.


Charles Chadwick was the son of Colonel John Chadwick (1720-1800), who in 1774 replaced the Jacobean Healey Hall with a fine Georgian mansion. John Chadwick enjoyed scattering Healey and its buildings with inscriptions. Charles added one of his own, by a field used for training his racehorses and for foot races. A quote from Horace, Misce stultitiam consiliis brevem. Dulce est desipere in loco. (Mingle brief folly with your wisdom. It is sweet to play the fool at times), is appended: VI Oct MDCCLXXV Meus est Natalis. C.C. (6th October 1775 is my birthday. CC). Despite the delights of Healey, upon inheriting the Hall Charles Chadwick chose to let it, preferring to live at Mavesyn Ridware. In 1788 he married Frances Green, heiress of Richard Green Esq. of Leventhorp House, Co. York; they had one son, Hugo-Malveysin Chadwick. Charles Chadwick served as a Magistrate and Deputy Lieutenant for Lancashire and Staffordshire.






Ruabon, North Wales 1750 – 1824 Wrexham



John Downman was a fashionable portrait painter in the second half of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth. He was born in Ruabon, North Wales, the son of Francis Downman, an attorney of Devonshire stock, and his wife Charlotte, daughter of Francis Goodsend, the private secretary to George I. In 1768 John became a pupil of Benjamin West and the following year attended the Royal Academy Schools. He showed his first portrait at the RA in 1770 and his first subject painting in 1773, exhibiting there until 1819. From 1773-4 Downman, by now married, studied in Rome in the company of Joseph Wright of Derby.


By 1777 Downman was living in Cambridge, but the following year set up a studio at Bedford Street, Covent Garden. From 1779-1804 he lived at increasingly fashionable London addresses, including Bond Street, Jermyn Street and Piccadilly. Downman painted few large-scale oil portraits, although these are elegant and accomplished. His early work is mostly small, oval oil portraits on copper, painted in the delicate manner of Francis Wheatley. Downman is most well known, however, for small, often oval portraits in black chalk and stump, tinted with watercolour. He drew on very thin paper and painted the flesh tints on the reverse, creating a subtle glow as the watercolour showed through. Downman’s soft, pretty style suited the taste of the age; he drew the foremost beauties of his day, including the Duchess of Devonshire, and was much in demand for his lively, naturalistic portraits of children. His study of classical art in Italy is apparent in his austere, delicate lines and his habit of placing sitters in cameo-like profile.


Downman made a number of subject pictures on themes from mythology, classical history, poetry and the theatre, for example The sybarite, 1805 (pencil, black chalk, watercolour and gouache; Victoria and Albert Museum, London). He contributed a scene from As You Like It (untraced) to John Boydell’s Shakespeare Gallery and in 1782 exhibited at the Royal Academy an oil painting of The return of Orestes, depicting private theatricals with the Prince of Wales as Orestes (with Messrs. A Tooth, London, in 1948). Downman became an ARA in 1795.


In 1804 Downman was living in West Malling, Kent, where he had relatives; he was a keen naturalist and made studies of animals and birds. By 1806 he had moved to Devon, where he married a daughter of the well-known Exeter organist and composer William Jackson, who had been a friend of Thomas Gainsborough. His later years were spent in constant travel to fulfil commissions, for example to Alnwick, Northumberland, to portray Hugh, Lord Percy, son of the Duke of Northumberland. In 1818, with the decline of demand for his work, he settled in Chester; he died at his daughter’s house in Wrexham in 1824.


Downman kept volumes of sketches of his sitters in which he records lively and amusing comments about them. These volumes are now divided between the British Museum, London and the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge.


The work of John Downman is represented in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the National Portrait Gallery, London; the British Museum, London; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge; the Yale Center for British Art, New Haven and in many English country house collections.





[1] GC Williamson, John Downman ARA His Life and Works, London 1907, p.xiv.

[2] Black, red and white chalk on brown paper, 9 x 7 3/8 in / 22.9 x 18.8 cm; inv. no.1894. Downman Sketchbooks from Butleigh Court, Second Series, vol. IV, no.2. Chadwick is described as ‘Mr Chaddock of Emmanuel College’, probably reflecting the eighteenth-century pronunciation of ‘Chadwick’. See Jane Munro, John Downman 1750-1824 Landscape, Figure Studies and Portraits of ‘Distinguished Persons’, Cambridge 1996, p.79.

Other Works By
John Downman:

John Downman - Portrait of William and Isabella Way of Denham Place, Buckinghamshire