SWIFT, JONATHAN (1667-1745)
PORTRAIT BY RUPERT BARBER (1719-1772), coloured pastel on paper, in near-profile facing left, in an emblematic still-life setting with volumes of Gulliver's Travels, several lines from Swift's 'A Journal of a Modern Lady' and a symbolic laurel crown, IN A FINE CONTEMPORARY ARCHITRAVE GILT FRAME, possibly by Gideon Gossett. with decorative scallop shells in the corner 'keys', and oak leaves and acorns down the sides, glazed, size of image 23 x 19 inches (58.5 x 48 cm), width of oval 13 ¼ inches (34 cm), size of frame 34 x 30 inches (86.5 x 76.5 cm), Ireland, [c. 1744/1745 and probably before Swift's death on 19 October]
A MAJOR DISCOVERY FOR SWIFT STUDIES: AN UNKNOWN VERSION OF RUPERT BARBER'S FINISHED PORTRAIT OF SWIFT, FORMERLY THOUGHT TO EXIST ONLY IN THE ONE AT BRYN MAWR COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA. The likenesses of Swift are few (unlike those of Pope, the most portrayed person in England at the time except members of the royal family). Swift only begrudgingly sat for his portrait, the best known being by Charles Jervis and Francis Bindon.
Rupert Barber's portrait of Swift was thought to exist in only four types (references to plate numbers are Robert Folkenflik's article 'The Rupert Barber Portraits of Jonathan Swift', a copy of which is included with the lot):
(i) A pastel portrait now in the LeFanu family, descendants of Alicia Sheridan (her father was a good friend of Swift) and Joseph LeFanu who owned the portrait in the eighteenth century. The present owner is T.P. LeFanu of Abington, Bray. This is the model for Barber's profile portraits, probably taken from the life c. 1739-1744. [Plate 2.]
(ii) The 'finished' pastel at Bryn Mawr College, formerly in the possession of Dr Richard Mead (a friend of Rupert's mother, Mary) and sold at his sale in 1754. It is based (i) above. It was donated to the College in 1960 by Mary K. Woodworth, who knew it had belonged to Mrs T.G. Winter in 1936 when it was sold to Colnaghi's who in turn sold it five years later to Mrs Mendelsohn-Bartoldy. Mrs Woodworth had bought it from Charles Sessler Inc in 1958; they had obtained it from Pickering and Chatto. The Bryn Mawr version is indistinguishable from the present portrait except for some of the emblematic decoration round the profile portrait and is in a similar eighteenth-century frame [Plate 3.] It has lines from Swift's poem 'The Petition of Francis Harris' and volumes of what are probably the Drapier's Letters. Professor Folkenflik suggests that Barber would not have used such a light-hearted text had Swift already died, a notion supported by Barber's use of 'Verses on the Death of Swift' on iii) and iv) below.
(iii) A small enamel miniature, apparently a 'commemorative' version, with 'Verses on the Death of Dr Swift', location not known to me, and clearly posthumous. [Plate 4.]
(iv) A pastel 'commemorative' and based on i), but with 'Verses on the Death of Dr Swift' and clearly posthumous, and since 1977 in the possession of Robert Folkenflik, Professor of English at the University of California, having been sold in 1948 at Parke Bernet and in 1977 at Swann's in New York. [Plate 8.]
The present portrait (like the Bryn Mawr version based on (i), was until very recently in the possession of the Toley-Aylwood family at Shankill Castle, Paulsdown, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland. Its possible existence was no more than hinted at by Robert Folkenflik: 'a version of the Bryn Mawr is said to be in private hands in Ireland, though I have discovered no details as to its whereabouts.' The text used in the manuscript makes it much more likely that this is a portrait made before Swift's death.
Comparison of the present portrait with the Bryn Mawr version (ii) reveals only differences in decorative detail between them, and in the lines and books depicted; neither distinguishable as 'better' or 'the prime' version. No less than the Bryn Mawr version, the present one shares the distinction of being 'DOUBTLESS THE LAST [PORTRAIT] OF SWIFT TAKEN OF SWIFT.' (Marks).
John Ingamells, despite having read Marks's article, nonetheless dismissed Barber's portraits as posthumous stating that they 'may have been based on the sight of Swift's corpse; at best Barber could have caught only a glimpse of Swift in his secluded years'.
The combination of Marks's research and that of Robert Folkenflik, in our opinion, favour Marks's conclusion, that, against the double-chinned clergyman depicted by Jervis and Bindon, Barber's portraits 'achieved a noble and transcendent likeness, a profile resemblance of the man as he ought to have appeared and should be remembered.'
Ingamells, rather unfairly, makes no reference to the opportunities that were open to Barber to paint Swift, despite the latter's decrepitude and seclusion in his later years from 1742. Having been apprenticed to Arthur Pond in London from c. 1735 to 1739 (whose patrons included Richard Mead and Mary Pendarves -- who became Mrs Delany in 1743), Rupert Barber was back in Ireland in 1742 when he married Bridgit Wilson ('an agreeable young lady with a handsome fortune'). They were so befriended by Swift's great friend Mrs Delany as to be called 'Roup' / 'Rupy' and 'Biddy' by her and be given (with his mother) a house at the end of her garden. More significant is the fact that Rupert's mother, Mary Barber (c. 1685-1755), was one of Swift's own protégées, whom he called 'Saphira' and referred to as 'our chief Poetess'' and 'the best Poetess of both Kingdoms.' For many years he encouraged her talent and lavished praise on her work. 'Given his mother's [and Mary Delany's] closeness to Swift, Rupert must have met and seen him with some frequency', Marks concluded. But even were that not true it is recorded that access to Swift in the Deanery could be 'bought' by a suitable tip to the domestic staff (despite the efforts of Swift's trustees and Mrs Martha Whiteway, his daily carer) and also, following Swift's death, his body was laid out for three days in the Deanery in an open casket (both these last two possibilities are referred to by Ingamells).
No example or version of this pastel portrait of Swift is in the National Portrait Gallery in England, the National Portrait Gallery in Ireland or the National Gallery in Ireland.
FRAME: Contemporary gilded frame of the same type as that on the Bryn Mawr portrait of Swift, a type often ordered by Arthur Pond from the Grossett family (particularly Gideon Grossett), but with scallops in the 'keys', being similar in this respect to the architrave frame on Pond's portrait of Sir Robert Walpole.
PROVENANCE: The Toler-Aylward family of Shankill Castle, Paulstown, Co. Kilkenny, Ireland.
REFERENCES: 'The Rupert Barber Portraits of Jonathan Swift' by Robert Folkenflik, in Representations of Swift, edited by Brian A. Connery, 2002; Arthur Marks, 'Seeking an Enduring Image; Rupert Barber, Jonathan Swift and the Profile Portrait', Swift Studies, 16 (2001); John Ingamells, Later Stuart Portraits 1685-1714, NPG, 2009; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (sub Mary Barber). I am grateful to Professor Folkenflik for his interest in this portrait and contributions to its study.