Mr B of Wisbeach asks me if he would be right to think of Mr Honey as a flâneur. Perhaps he might, if Mr Honey were to stroll the boulevards of Paris, but I cannot so picture him. Like our subject, Capability Brown, Mr Honey can barely be persuaded to leave the island – ‘Boulevardier? – I hear him say – ‘Moi?’.
Let me set him up in comparison with Captain K – spare as a rake, a man suspicious of ideas, but more suspicious than anything of ideals, a Robespierre for truth with a curious bump on his forehead from being a tall man and prone to bump into doorways; Mr Honey by contrast, is a man unlikely ever to be troubled by a lintel, who carries a generous expanse of patterned waistcoat and the flushed air of one who has done well on the gee-gees and looks forward to telling us about it. Yet what is gained from such a comparison? – is there something in the look of a man that can give one a clue to his character? And if so, could one take a further step and, from looking at one of his landscapes, form an opinion of the likely character and appearance of the long-faced Brown? Perhaps the question might be applied more fairly to another artist, for if Brown aimed to be anonymous then we are hardly likely to build an accurate picture of the man from a sight of his work. Nor should we expect him to have been vain, however at least three painters appear to have tried him. In 1782 he paid Thomas Gainsborough £32.00.00, mentioned in an earlier communication (note 43), then there are the two undated portraits attributed to Richard Cosway and Nathaniel Dance and the various copies of these that the sculptor, Jon Edgar (currently creating a bronze head of Brown, and hence his interest) has tracked down and reported on in his blog. Now of these two painters, Richard Cosway (1742-1821) first exhibited at the Society of Arts in 1760 (he was made an ARA in 1770) and Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland (1735-1811) painted in Rome until 1765, and it is said that did not concentrate on portraits until after 1772.
Here’s a thing though: the engraver Edward Burch made a copy of Dance’s portrait at some time before 1771 for a carnelian intaglio that was later set into a bracelet and can now be seen at the British Museum. Burch catalogued his work as ‘Mr Browne, Gardener to His Majesty, Cornelian. Intaglio. Henry Holland Esq [the owner] From a picture by Nathaniel Dance, Esq R.A.’ This gives a reasonable date for both portraits of around 1769, when Brown was 53 years old.
So how long an interval would a man in Brown’s position wait between portraits? At what point would it seem self-indulgent? Every twelve years or so, is hardly too much? – and how similar the two paintings are – similar length of the man, similar angle of head – so might one justly conjecture that both were painted at the same time and one was photo-shopped to conjure up an image of Brown as a younger man?
Jon Edgar is the only man to resolve the matter.