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Portrait of a naval lieutenant, about 1795

Oil paintings

Object connections:

Collection Oil paintings, Fine art
Gallery locationNot on display

Object details:

Object ID BHC3117
Description A half-length portrait, slightly to the right, showing the unidentified sitter in lieutenant's full dress uniform, 1787-1812, wearing a cocked hat. He carries a dress sword under his right arm, blade upwards and with a red sword belt wrapped around its sheath. Foliage forms the background on the left and a three-decker is shown on the right. When acquired in 1944 the portrait was said to be of Lieutenant William Bligh, of 'Bounty' fame: this has no basis in terms of likeness, though the uniform is probably the one Bligh would have only recently acquired as the new full dress when that ship sailed in December 1787. More intriguing is the disproportionate size of the sitter's head to his body, and the unusual way the sword is included, showing its full length in what is only a half-length portrait, which also emphasises the disproportions of body scale. Livesay was a competent painter, so it is unlikely these are a mistake, and they may therefore indicate the sitter had some form of dwarfism. Given the physical demands of a seafaring upbringing under sail, this would be unusual in a naval officer of the time given that being a fully able seaman was pre-requisite to gaining a commission, and commanding the respect of men who were. If the observation is correct, it is also surprising the man has not been identified, probably from anecdotal or biographical references rather than in official records, and it would be interesting to know who he was. Livesay exhibited 69 paintings at the Royal Academy between 1776 and 1821. From 1777 to 1785 he lodged with William Hogarth’s widow while working in London and producing replicas of Hogarth's work. Later, he was a pupil of Benjamin West, copying pictures at Windsor Castle and acting as a drawing instructor for some of the royal children. From 1796 until 1811 he was drawing master at the Royal Naval Academy (College, from 1806) at Portsmouth. [amended, PvdM 2/18]
Date made Late 18th century to early 19th century

Artist/Maker Livesay, Richard
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 406 mm x 254 mm
  • Portrait of a naval lieutenant, about 1795 (BHC3117)
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