Monday, 8 February 2016
Archer James Oliver: Putting his mother on a pedestal.
A lot of artists must have painted pictures of their mothers. They're available, for a start. A self portrait with your mother, that's a much rarer thing. But here we have the once-fashionable, but pretty-much forgotten painter Archer James Oliver painting himself painting his mother, Anna Maria. It's a studio scene, of course, but there's something just very slightly religious about the set up as well.
Oliver was born in 1774, and christened on October 3rd of that year, at St Mary's church in Whitechapel. He was admitted to the Royal Academy Schools at the age of 16. From there he had a career that seems to have been successful for the most part, but is curiously hard to trace.
He exhibited a large number of works at the Royal Academy showing 210 paintings in all. The first, in 1791 was a self portrait, and his second, the next year, was a "portrait of a gentleman", apparently a Mr King. His address in these first two years is given as 65 Long Acre. He then moved round the corner to 80 St Martin's Lane, submitting various portraits, whose exact subjects are mostly unrecorded. An exception is that one of himself and his mother from 1794. It turned up at auction in Paris just over a year ago
By 1803 he was benefiting from aristocratic patronage, showing a "Portrait of --------- Howard, Esq., of Arundel, representing William de Albini, an English Baron of the beginning of the thirteenth century; to be executed in stained glass, for a window in Arundel Castle" and "A portrait of His Grace, the Duke of Norfolk, representing Robert Fitzwalter, an English Baron of the beginning of the thirteenth century", also destined to be copied onto glass. This is a window from the same series, though I'm not sure if it's after one of Oliver's paintings. Still, they would have been very much along these lines.
The subject of another Academy exhibit caught my attention too. In 1813 he showed a "Portrait of Sir Paul Baghott, Proxy for Lord Strangford, K.B. at the installation of Knights of the Bath, June 1, 1812, in King Henry the Seventh's Chapel, Westminster." It's hard to imagine it's not this picture of Baghott hanging unattributed in the museum at Stroud: