Lowell Libson & Jonny Yarker Ltd

  • Pencil, pen and brown ink, grey wash, watermark I.H.S./Villedary
  • 16 × 13 inches · 345 × 330 mm
  • Inscribed 'Highgate', lower left,
    Also inscribed and dated 'Hogard [sic] fecit 1729', lower left

Collections

  • Mrs M A Steele;
  • Christie's, London 17 June 1975, lot 73, for 850gns;
  • Martyn Gregory, London

This reflection on benign old age is one of the final works of perhaps the longest-lived artist of eighteenth-century England. For although it bears a spurious date of 1729, it is actually a very late work of circa 1771.[1]

Much of what survives from Laroon's hand dates from after he retired from his army career in 1732 and even in his nineties Laroon remained active as a draughtsman, though his characteristic dancing rococo pen line was more hesitant and heavy than in drawings of the 1730s and 40s. In very late works such as this, Laroon does not alleviate the hardness of his outline by shading his forms, and this produces a flatness that can overwhelm and which requires time for the viewer to explore. Laroon put this to good effect in A Marketplace in a high wind at the Courtauld Gallery, where the dense penwork amplifies the scene's Brueghelian commotion. Laroon made that remarkable drawing - which is more than half a metre tall and seventy-five centimetres wide - in 1771 and proudly inscribed it 'Ætat 92.'[2] The present drawing may also be compared with another drawing of 1771, Two Gentlemen going shooting with a dog and a groom at the Tate.[3] In both works, Laroon has sketched over a pencil outline using light and dark brown inks, and applied touches of grey wash before the ink had dried, causing it to run.

Raines suggests that drawings from Laroon's extreme old age were sometimes pencil sketches that he had begun years earlier.[4] This could be the case here, and certainly he has relied on a compositional format that had served him in decades past when drawing domestic scenes. For example, in a highly finished drawing dated 1736 of a concert party at Montagu House, Laroon arranged a group of figures in the right-hand corner of a room, seated around a keyboard (situated where the table stands in our drawing); a door is to the left and a figure is busy at work in the background.[5] At Yale there is another drawing staged like this, called A Tea Party, which Raines dates to circa 1770 (fig. 84.1).[6] It exhibits remarkable similarities with the present drawing, and might be considered a companion work. The arrangement of the room is almost identical, as is the grouping of the family members: the woodcutter's head is angled the same way as the man on the left at the tea party who is handing a cup and saucer to the boy, whose features resemble the boy playing with a dog in our drawing; the young girls in both drawings resemble each other too; in both drawings a woman in domestic service stands at the centre and in both drawings a figure on the right by a chair is represented in profile facing the room. By this point, Laroon was about ninety years old, an age achieved by very few men born in the 1670s. For all his enduring vitality, his draughtsmanship was centred around long familiar themes drawn from his own life. There is surely an element of autobiography in these two drawings, which might be understood as imaginative reflections on different eras of Laroon's long life. It is notable that the frock coats worn by the men in both drawings are of a style of half a century before.

The contrasts of high life and low life were the enduring themes of Laroon's art and doubtless account for the spurious attribution of this drawing to Hogarth. These differences are juxtaposed in the drawing here and its companion at Yale as well as in Laroon's own family. For although he was brought up in a large Covent Garden house where he received a genteel education, his father was a man 'of loose conversation & morals suteable to his birth & education. being low & spurious.'[7] Laroon's own sister Elizabeth was recorded a pauper from 1714 onwards and entered the poorhouse several times in the 1720s [8] Laroon was well placed to describe the disparities and insecurity of social condition.

References

  1. Robert Raines describes another drawing, now at the National Gallery of Scotland (D 4682). This also has a spurious signature of Hogarth but is genuinely dated 1729. See Robert Raines, Marcellus Laroon, London and New York, 1967, pp.59, 126. 
  2. Courtauld Gallery, museum no.D.1952.RW.3602. 
  3. Tate, museum no.N03642. 
  4. Robert Raines, Marcellus Laroon, London and New York, 1967, p.58.
  5. British Museum, museum no.1848,0708.207. 
  6. Yale Center for British Art, museum no.B1977.14.6213. 
  7. Vertue, vol. I, p.147. 
  8. Jeremy Boulton, 'The Painter's Daughter and the Poor Law: Elizabeth Laroon (b.1689-fl.1736)', The London Journal,March 2017, vol.41 no.1, pp.13-33