Henry Thaddeus - a portrait artist to watch


Although not an old property, Garretstown House in Co Meath does contain some interesting items, and these are being sold in a contents sale being conducted by Mealy's next Tuesday.

As with such an event, there is a substantial selection of equestrian portraits; in this instance, five paintings - Lots 287 to 291 - either by or attributed to John Frederick Herring Senior (1795-1865) of race-winning horses from the 1820s and 1830s. Carrying estimates between £4,000 and £9,000, all these pictures have the same provenance, coming from the Mount Juliet sale of 1986.

So too did Lot 201, a large portrait by Frank Holl, R.A. of General Lord Wolseley (£4,000-£6,000); the sitter served in a succession of major 19th-century military campaigns, from the Crimea to the wars in Sudan and Egypt, before becoming commander-in-chief of the army from 1895 to 1900. No provenance is given in the sale catalogue for Lot 453, although it is one of the most interesting items in the auction. A three-quarter length portrait of a young woman, the oil is dated 1889, when it was painted by Henry Jones Thaddeus. With so much interest being paid to portraitists of the late Victorian and Edwardian era (exhibitions in London last year were devoted to both Sargent and Millais), it is inevitable that Thaddeus's work will start to increase in popularity.

The artist was born in Cork in 1860 and originally named Henry Thaddeus Jones; it was only in adult life that he began to use Thaddeus as his surname. He originally studied at Cork's School of Art before moving to London and thence Paris, where, like so many other Irish artists, he enrolled at the Academie Julian. During his first year there, he painted The Wounded Poacher, which was accepted for exhibition at the 1881 Paris Salon; it is now in the collection of the National Gallery of Ireland. Soon enough, again like the majority of Irish artists working in Paris at the time, he travelled to Brittany and painted a number of pictures in the port of Concarneau. However, it was to be as a portraitist that Thaddeus made his reputation. His first success in this genre were portraits of the Duke and Duchess of Teck, shown at the Royal Academy in 1884. The Tecks provided him with introductions to other sitters, but he also travelled in Italy (painting a portrait of Pope Leo XIII in 1885/86). He seems to have been a constant traveller, turning up in Egypt in 1889 where he painted the Khedive - this portrait was subsequently presented to Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle - as well as Australia and possibly the United States.

In 1886, he began showing at the Royal Hibernian Academy, where he became a member in 1901. In 1912, he published his autobiography, Recollections of a Court Painter; he died in the Isle of Wight in 1929. Thaddeus was a highly proficient society portraitist of a kind that no longer exists. This particular work has a romantic, slightly anachronistic character, enhanced by the sitter's empire-style costume and ostrich-plumed head-dress. The picture's pre-sale estimate of £5,000-£7,000 may therefore seem a little low. Tuesday's auction starts at 11 a.m.