Attr. Richard Livesay, Portrait Of A British Royal Navy Lieutenant

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An early 19th-century half-length portrait of a British Royal Navy Lieutenant dressed in full uniform. The subject stands before a distant three-masted sailing ship, possibly a ‘seventy-four’.

Richard Livesay (c.1750-c.1823) had a fascinating and varied career, but little is known about him when compared to his contemporaries Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) and Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792).

Early records cite him as lodging with the widow of William Hogarth (1697-1764) for whom he created many engravings and etchings after Hogarth’s drawings.

He later became a pupil of Benjamin West (1738-1820) and this relationship may have helped him to secure multiple commissions from King George III. These include a beautiful work depicting his future daughter in law, Frederica, Princess Royal of Prussia, which is in the Royal Collection.

But aside from his larger more conspicuous works, he also completed numerous small, often bust-length, portraits that were characterised by their playfulness and sense of theatre.

Many of these were created during his time in Portsea, where he worked as drawing master to the Royal Naval College. Notable subjects include James Caulfield, the Earl of Charlement, and Captain Richard Grindall. These can be viewed in the National Gallery, London, and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, respectively.

This painting is housed within a period giltwood frame and there are various inscriptions on the reverse, along with two partial collector’s seals. One of the inscriptions refers to the artist George Lance (1802-1864), a well-known painter of still life and portrait miniatures. Having considered Lance’s style, it’s unlikely that this portrait is by him and entirely plausible that his name has been added during the 19th century in an effort to upgrade the work. There are records of this occurring on another Livesay painting from a similar period.

Oil on panel
Size including frame
14⅓” x 12” / 36.5cm x 31cm x 3cm
Year of creation
c. 1805 - c. 1820
One small area of paint loss towards the bottom of the painting and two further areas on the periphery. Craquelure. Frame with various scuffs, losses and age-related wear.
Artist’s auction highlight
£5,000 reached at Sotheby’s in 2011 for ‘Two Springer Spaniels in a Rocky Landscape’.