Born in Devon, Joseph Greenway made his fortune captaining Danish cargo ships and became a Danish citizen in 1786. On his return to Britain, his wealth enabled him to rise in English society. He was Sheriff of Exeter from 1802 to 1803 and Mayor of the city from 1804 to 1805.
In this highly sympathetic portrait, painted in Denmark in the summer of 1788, the Danish painter Jens Juel presents Greenway as an English gentleman accompanied by his hunting dog. Greenway’s open expression and relaxed pose reveal a man at ease with himself and comfortable in his surroundings. The portrait is full of meticulous observation, both of Greenway and of the shaded woodland that surrounds him. His pose and the rural setting have echoes of Thomas Gainsborough’s John Plampin, also in the National Gallery’s collection. The landscape setting is the coast of the Sound, 12 miles north of Copenhagen, and the ships on the horizon allude to Greenway’s nautical career.
Born in Devon, Joseph Greenway made his fortune captaining Danish cargo ships and became a Danish citizen in 1786. On his return to Britain, the wealth he had amassed enabled him to rise in English society. He was Sheriff of Exeter from 1802 to 1803 and Mayor of the city from 1804 to 1805. However, family tradition states that he lost his fortune in speculation, and by 1821 he was recorded as having died bankrupt.
In this highly sympathetic portrait, painted in Denmark in the summer of 1788, the Danish painter Jens Juel presents Greenway as an English gentleman accompanied by his hunting dog. As the dog looks up at him, Greenway in turn looks at us, his open expression and relaxed pose revealing a man at ease with himself and comfortable in his surroundings. The absence of a wig enhances the effect of informality. The portrait is full of meticulous observation – for example, the contrast between Greenway’s pale forehead (perhaps protected from the sun by the wide brim of the hat he is holding) and the darker, more weathered skin tones of the rest of his face. Juel is equally attentive to the various textures of Greenway’s clothes, particularly as they catch the light, such as the gleaming buttons on his waistcoat.
Juel similarly observes the natural world with an almost scientific precision, including the bark of the beech tree behind Greenway (on which Juel’s name and the date 1788 have been carved) and the tiny plants and flowers on the grassy bank. But he is equally alert to broader atmospheric effects. Using subtle bands of green to structure the landscape, he creates a vista that leads our eye from the enclosed and shaded woodland grove in the foreground to the bright area of sky beyond. The landscape itself is probably the park of Enrum, a country house 12 miles north of Copenhagen on the coast of the Sound, which was owned by Greenway’s Danish business associate, Conrad Fabritius de Tengnagel. The ships you can just see on the horizon allude to Greenway’s nautical career.
Greenway’s pose and the rural setting have echoes of Thomas Gainsborough’s John Plampin, which may in turn derive from Watteau’s portrait of Antoine de Laroque, painted around 1719. Laroque’s right leg had been amputated above the knee, having been smashed by a cannonball, and in the portrait he is reclining with his damaged leg stretched out before him. Although now lost, the portrait was widely known through an engraving made in 1734. Juel may also have known of Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein’s Goethe in the Roman Campagna (Städel Museum, Frankfurt), which shows the famous writer reclining in a landscape and was painted just a year before the Greenway portrait.
Juel was a highly successful artist, known mainly for his portraits, who had travelled widely in Europe before returning to Copenhagen in 1780. By the time he painted his portrait of Greenway, he had been elected unanimously to the Royal Danish Academy of Art in 1782 and was to become its director in 1795. Despite his fame as a portrait painter, Juel’s greatest influence was perhaps through his landscapes. Their combination of precision and atmospheric effect, without recourse to dramatic scenes or exotic locations, was an important model for his students. Among them was Caspar David Friedrich, who studied in Copenhagen in the 1790s.
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