William Makepeace Thackeray / Self-portrait [?] (1845)

, by Eyre Crowe (1845)”]William Makepeace Thackeray, by Eyre Crowe (1845)

Medium: watercolour

Size: 15 cm x 15 cm

This watercolour does not have a title, but it was stated at the time of its sale in 2002 that it was considered to be of William Makepeace Thackeray. A close examination of the painting and comparison with later photographs of Eyre Crowe, however, leads me to suggest that it is fact more likely to be a self-portrait of the artist. It is possibly the same ‘Self-portrait as a young man’ that was in the possession of Eyre Crowe’s half-sister in Paris when his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography was published in 1912.

The portrait is dated 4 October 1845, when Eyre Crowe was 20 years old and living with his family in London, having spent the winter of 1843-1844 in Italy with his master, Paul Delaroche, and his fellow student, Jean-Léon Gérôme. He had enrolled as a probationary student at the Royal Academy Schools in July 1845, so had not yet established himself as an artist. Thackeray was a friend of the Crowe family, having met them in Paris in the 1830s. Ever eager to help his friends, Thackeray gave Crowe a commission to transfer to wood the sketches he had made for Notes of a Journey from Cornhill to Grand Cairo, which was published in 1846. According to Peter L Shillingsburg, Thackeray was working on the book through the autumn and into December 1845 [‘Pegasus in Harness: Victorian Publishing and William Makepeace Thackeray’. URL: http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/wmt/pegasus/ch2f.html, accessed 11 May 2009]

The original watercolour was on sale at the Court Gallery, Nether Stowey, Somerset, in the summer of 2002. It was previously in private hands, and is thought to have originally been kept in an album. It is possible that this was the ‘Morocco coloured album, containing a collection of Water Colour Drawings and Sketches by Eyre Crowe A.R.A., Bonnington and others’ which was sold for £7 7s in a sale of the late Eyre Crowe’s belongings by Messrs Furber of London on 22 February 1911. A copy of the sale catalogue describing this item, annotated with the price fetched, is in the Archive Department of the University of Wales, Bangor (Garthewin Additional Collection, 1589)

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