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John Lawrence Toole

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John Lawrence Toole

by Alfred Bryan
Coloured chalks on blue-toned paper, lower corners clipped
13 3/4 in. x 9 1/2 in. (349 mm x 241 mm)
NPG 3074

Inscriptionback to top

Signed lower right.

This portraitback to top

This caricature drawing depicts the sitter standing in formal morning dress, wearing a top hat and a monocle in his right eye. He holds a loose handkerchief in his left hand, and his right arm is raised and bent as if about to fend off a large hornet flying towards his face. He appears to be in his forties, with already heavy jowls.

The artist Charles Grineau, who worked under the name Alfred Bryan, was a prolific caricaturist in the last decades of the nineteenth century, who initially concentrated on figures from the London stage and then on politicians. The Gallery collection includes thirty works by him, several of unidentified sitters. Bryan published initially in the Hornet, a satirical magazine published 1867–80, and the insect shown in the present work may allude to this, but as a full run of the journal has not been located it is not yet possible to determine if the caricature appeared there. The signature and style of Bryan’s drawing suggest an early date – later both signature and shadow hatching became loose and scrawled – so it appears to date from the 1870s. This would accord with the relatively benign depiction of Toole, who during this decade appeared chiefly at the Gaiety Theatre, co-starring for example in Sheridan’s The Rivals alongside fellow-actor Samuel Phelps, whom Bryan also drew (see NPG 3015).

Bryan executed several other images of Toole, in and out of character. See for example ‘All known portraits, In private character, Paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints, publ. 1883’ and ‘publ. 1889’, and ‘All known portraits, In stage character, The Area Belle’ and ‘Oliver Twist’.

Toole admired Bryan’s skill, telling the artist’s biographer that Bryan was the most successful of the contemporary ‘picadores’; he had done many images of Henry Irving that were ‘bold and vigorous, though exaggerated’, displaying ‘firm strokes and brilliant touches’. Toole’s dressing room was decorated with portraits of friends and fellow-actors, including a depiction of Henry James Byron by Bryan, and Phil May’s caricature of Toole, Irving and Squire Bancroft rolling home on a night out (see ‘All known portraits, In private character, Paintings, drawings, sculptures and prints, 1883’). [1] Some of the illustrations for Toole’s Reminiscences were drawn by Bryan, and his drawing ‘A Day with Mr J.L. Toole’ was shown at the Victorian Era Exhibition, 1897 (Historical and Commemorative section, no.348).

Dr Jan Marsh

Footnotesback to top

1) Hatton 1889b, p.390.

Physical descriptionback to top

Portrait chargé, whole-length, large head on small body, left hand holding handkerchief.

Provenanceback to top

Purchased from unnamed source, 1939.

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