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John Seymour Lucas

John Seymour Lucas, by John Singer Sargent, 1905 -NPG 5219 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

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John Seymour Lucas

by John Singer Sargent
Oil on canvas, 1905
27 1/8 in. x 21 5/8 in. (698 mm x 549 mm)
NPG 5219

Inscriptionback to top

Signed, dated and inscr. across top: ‘To my friend Seymour Lucas / John S. Sargent 1905’.
On back of stretcher label inscr.: ‘R.L. 1940–57A / Oil Portrait of J. Seymour Lucas R.A / by Sargant. / Owner Mrs L.C. Grubbe.’

This portraitback to top

It has been suggested that NPG 5219 and an oil of Charles Napier Hemy (priv. coll.) – both bust portraits inscribed ‘to my friend’ and painted in 1905 – may have been produced as an exchange in kind between fellow Academicians, since neither Lucas nor Hemy was a special friend nor in the league of Sargent’s usual sitters. Certainly there was a painting by Lucas (and one by Hemy) at the Sargent studio sale in 1925.[1] The portrait of Lucas was exhibited at the New Gallery in 1906 and was warmly praised by, amongst others, the Art Journal (‘the sketch of Mr. Seymour Lucas is full of vitality, of momentariness’) and the Spectator (‘the construction of the head shows the hand of a master’).[2]

Lucas’s close friend Allan Fea thought it a subtle likeness:

One’s first impression of Lucas was a well-groomed, somewhat horsey-looking little man, clean-shaven, with dark, penetrating eyes, which kindled with lively enthusiasm when discussing things that interested him. But when unsympathetic subjects cropped up […] it was easy to see his mind had wandered off to seek amusement elsewhere; and that is exactly the dreamy expression that has been caught so cleverly by Sargent’s genius.[3]

Lucas had been a visitor at the Royal Academy Schools since 1886; he was afterwards succeeded by Sargent. Frank Salisbury, who was a student during both tenures, described in his memoirs their bewilderingly different teaching methods, with Lucas insisting on the ‘necessity of selectiveness’ and Sargent on ‘accepting nature exactly as it was before him’.[4]

The painting belonged to Lucas’s daughter Mrs Grubbe and it was offered to the National Portrait Gallery by her daughter Mrs Hubbard in 1978.[5] She recalled: ‘I remember hearing it said that, when the portrait was suggested, Sargent picked up an old canvas and laid it in with great speed!’[6] The ancedote is borne out by a recent technical examination which detected a distinct, unrelated layer of paint beneath the Lucas portrait.[7]

Footnotesback to top

1) Ormond & Kilmurray 2003, p.159, no.501.
2) AJ, 1906, p.181; and Spectator, 28 Apr. 1906, p.671.
3) Fea 1927, p.179.
4) Salisbury 1953, p.107.
5) ‘My mother wished it to go to the National Portrait Gallery’; letter from Mrs Hubbard to R.L. Ormond, 8 Sept. 1978, NPG RP 5219.
6) Letter from Mrs Hubbard to Dr John Hayes, 21 Dec. 1978, NPG RP 5219.
7) ‘Vigourous brushstrokes which do not correspond to the visual image are visible in the painting’s texture’ (NPG conservation report, 30 Apr. 2008). An X-ray taken in May 2008 seems to show the outlines of an earlier three-quarter-length figure, although this could be ‘brush wipes or, at best, a part of a much larger canvas previously half-painted and abandoned’ (NPG conservator’s report, 9 June 2010).

Physical descriptionback to top

Quarter-length to right, seated, head turned and facing viewer, wearing dark suit and a white tie.

Provenanceback to top

The sitter; by descent to sitter’s daughter Mrs Marie Ellen Grubbe, and granddaughter Mrs Margaret M.J. Hubbard, who offered it as a gift to the NPG in 1978.

Exhibitionsback to top

New Gallery, London, 1906 (134).

RA, London, 1926 (420).

Reproductionsback to top

Art Journal, 1908, p.25.

Fea 1927, facing p.178.

Ormond & Kilmurray 2003, p.159.

View all known portraits for John Seymour Lucas