Francis Cotes RA (1726-1770)
Portrait Dr John Gregory in a red coat
Signed and dated 1763
Oil on canvas
91.4 x 71.1 cm
36 x 28 in
PROVENANCE Lionel Clark, London; (his sale Sotheby’s, July 24th 1929 (lot 48), bought by Asscher; Leo M. Flesh, Piqua, Ohio (his sale Christie’s November 17th 1967 (lot 94) bought Leyland; Anon sale, Sotheby’s, March 12 1969 (lot 134); Philip Reiff, Philadelphia
LITERATURE Edward Mead Johnson, Francis Cotes (Phaidon, 1976) p.69 no.125 (as a portrait of Sir Hector Monro)
Francis Cotes, RA (1726-1770) was the son of a pharmacist, and the eldest brother of the miniaturist Samuel Cotes. He was apprenticed to the portrait painter George Knapton in the 1740’s, and was at first confined to pastels, in which medium he is certainly the greatest English exponent of the 18th century. His first oil paintings date from as late as 1753, and he did not seriously take up the medium until four years later. From 1765 he took a large house and studio at 32 Cavendish Square, and established himself as the first serious fashionable rival to Reynolds and Gainsborough. He was prominent in the Society of Artists and was a Foundation Member of the Royal Academy. He was perhaps the greatest rival to Sir Joshua Reynolds in London during the 1760’s and enjoyed a great critical success:
How happy Cotes? Thy skill shall shine, Unrivall’d in the class, almost divine...
Thus the critic of The London Chronicle praised the virtues of Cotes' portrait of Queen Charlotte: the King had chosen Cotes above Reynolds (whom he roundly loathed) to be patronised and to have a Royal portrait exhibited at the Academy, a severe blow to the President's amore-propre.
The present painting dates from the period of Cotes maturation into a fully developed portrait painter in oils, and illustrates amply the artist’s clarity of conception, vigorous free brushwork and clarity and intensity of tone. It has for at least 80 years been identified as a portrait of Sir Hector Monro, the distinguished soldier and statesman. The identification may be safely discarded on several grounds: the costume the sitter wears is civilian, not military, uniform (information from Stephen Wood FSA); Monro was in India 1759-1765 when the portrait was painted in London in 1762; the portrait was sold with a companion piece of “Lady Monro” at Sotheby’s in 1929, but Monro never in fact married.