Not currently on display at the V&A

An unknown man in a frock coat

Oil Painting
ca.1825-1830 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

This small, anonymous painting reflects the style of portraiture in popular in early nineteenth century France and Britain. The unidentified sitter’s direct gaze toward the viewer, with a vaguely annoyed appearance, was a feature of this style. The sitter is a product of his time as reflected in his attire and accessories. The modern frock-coat, top hat, gloves and delicate gold chain, all fashionable in the early nineteenth century display his upper class status, or a desire to be seen as part of their circle. The unknown artist utilised contemporary painting techniques, with a light palette and a softening of the features, which hint at the emergence of Romanticism. The size of the portrait and manner of painting show similarities to portrait miniatures of the 1830s.


object details
Categories
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil on card
Brief Description
Oil painting. A Man in a Black Frock Coat, French School, ca. 1830
Physical Description
Three-quarter length portrait, standing, turned to right and looking to front, of a young man in a black frock coat. The portrait is set in a landscape.
Dimensions
  • Approx. height: 40.4cm
  • Approx. width: 29cm
Dimensions taken from Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900, C.M. Kauffmann, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1973
Style
Credit line
Bequeathed by Claude D. Rotch
Object history
Bequeathed by Claude D. Rotch
Historical context
This painting is part of a bequest by Claude Dickason Rotch (1878-1961). His collection of furniture, paintings and silver was an important addition to the V&A and some objects were displayed together in the Costumes Court between December 1962 and February 1963.



Neither the artist nor the subject of this small oil painting on card have been identified. Little is known of the portrait and no artist has ever been suggested as a plausible attribution. In some respects P.44-1962 has more in common with portrait miniatures than larger oil paintings, particularly as it is painted on card rather than canvas or panel. Compositionally, there are a number of interesting similarities to a portrait miniature which was consigned for sale at Bohmans London (Lot 188, 24 June 2004) by little known French miniaturist Benjamin Delacour (fl.1818-1843), signed and dated November 1831. [http://www.bonhams.com/auctions/11052/lot/188/?page_anchor=r1%3D192%26m1%3D1]



P.44-1962 also reflects the influence of French neo-classical portraitist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) and British Regency portrait painter Sir Thomas Lawrence. It is dated around 1825-1830, based upon the style of the portrait and the sitter’s ensemble. The subtle colours of the background suggest the neo-classical stlye popular in early nineteenth century Europe. The portrait is not overly detailed and is not symbolic but captures the essence of its subject, as opposed to displaying wealth or status. The softness of the subject’s face suggests an early Romanticism and reflects the trends of other portraits of this time. This piece is attributed to the French school, but comparison between British and French portraiture from this date show a crossover between styles and techniques.



The sitter’s frock coat shows an attention to fashion, which was a growing interest in the early-nineteenth century. According to the Curator of Nineteenth Century Fashion at the V&A, the frock coat is extreme and dandyish for men’s clothing of the time. His coat, top hat, gloves and delicate gold chain indicate he is of some means. However, with the trickle down of men’s fashion and the availability of certain items to the masses, the sitter could be emulating a upper class style for his portrait. The wide lapel, narrow waist and flare over the hips are indicative of the modern style of formal coat in the early 19th century. The V&A has several examples of men’s coats in its collections and Frock Coat (T.136-1967) closely resembles the one worn by the subject. The following description is given for the piece:

‘A new style of coat--the frock-coat—was introduced between 1815 and 1820. It had skirts to the knees and buttoned in front. It was influenced by the style of the greatcoat (overcoat), but more fitted in shape. Worn first as informal daywear, the frock-coat soon became the formal day-coat of the 19th century. The example in brown silk and worsted has a shawl collar of velvet in the style of the late 1820s.’



Additionally, the style of coat in the painting can be seen in a contemporary fashion plate from the House of Worth (E.2296:169-1957). The overly wide shawl lapel and small-waisted coat on the man in the plate echoes female fashions of the time and exemplifies the desired male silhouette, with broad shoulders and narrow waist.



The portrait’s subject also holds a top hat in the crook of his left arm. As noted in the V&A description of a top hat (T.126-1933), ‘The resemblance of the straight, high-crowned headgear to factory chimneys did not go unnoticed, nor did the fact that many wealthy industrialists wore them, and so the top hat became a symbol of affluence and urban respectability.’ While this description applied directly to British fashion, there was a fluidity between British and French fashions during this time.



While the painting would appear to be in a French hand, the influence of early nineteenth century British portraiture and fashions is evident.

Subjects depicted
Summary
This small, anonymous painting reflects the style of portraiture in popular in early nineteenth century France and Britain. The unidentified sitter’s direct gaze toward the viewer, with a vaguely annoyed appearance, was a feature of this style. The sitter is a product of his time as reflected in his attire and accessories. The modern frock-coat, top hat, gloves and delicate gold chain, all fashionable in the early nineteenth century display his upper class status, or a desire to be seen as part of their circle. The unknown artist utilised contemporary painting techniques, with a light palette and a softening of the features, which hint at the emergence of Romanticism. The size of the portrait and manner of painting show similarities to portrait miniatures of the 1830s.
Bibliographic References
  • Kauffmann, C.M., Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, II. 1800-1900, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, pp. 39-40, cat. no. 86.
  • Victoria & Albert Museum Department of Prints and Drawings and Department of Paintings, Accessions 1962. London: HMSO, 1964.
Collection
Accession Number
P.44-1962

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record createdFebruary 6, 2007
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