John Philip Simpson (Enfield, 1782-London, 1847) Portugal, 1834-1837 Oil on canvas 129,8 x 102 cm Unsigned and undated
Title: Dom Pedro, Duke of Bragança
Long Description: Pedro, commander in chief of the “liberating army”, wore military uniform in this almost full-body portrait and bearing the insignia of the Golden Fleece at his neck and the decoration of the Three Orders (above) – that brings together not only the insignia of the Great Crosses of the Military Orders of Christ, Avis and Santiago – and the Order of the Tower and the Sword, value, loyalty and merit (below), whose colours he also wears (silk sash with the colours of green, red and purple and another in marine blue silk, respectively). The monarch, slightly three-quarters on, nevertheless in a practically frontal pose, makes a movement with his shoulders and hand, which holds an armoured helmet while the other holds the hilt of a sword.
Pedro's hair reflects the fashions of the time with curls and parted at one side and wearing a moustache and beard that defines his jaws.
This picture, the property of the royal family was painted by John Simpson during his stay in Lisbon in 1834 and potentially also in 1837. According to Bénézit (“Dictionnaire Critique et Documentaire de Peintres…”, 1976), the British painter was in the service of Pedro in 1834 but does not specify whether he arrived in Portugal before or after 24th September, the date of his death. What is known is that he painted several portraits of the recently crowned Queen Maria II.
Regarding the question of whether or not the portrait of Pedro was painted posthumously, three factors sustain this hypothesis:
- The facial features of Pedro diverge from those portrayed by João Baptista Ribeiro in the portraits that he did during the monarch's time in Oporto (1832-1834) and that better convey the physical tiredness caused by the demanding daily routines of life during the city's long siege. Nevertheless, the certain idealisation and expressiveness displayed in the face of the king represents a common characteristic to Simpson's portraits.
- The presence of the insignia of the Order of the Tower and Sword, of value, loyalty and merit, the military order founded by Pedro in 1832 that coexisted throughout the siege of Oporto as the Order of the Tower and Sword of Value and Loyalty under the auspices of King Miguel. This represents a pentagonal gold plate, with brilliant beams emerging out of the Order's star with a covered tower in gold between two bridges above. In this sense, it is worth remembering that the first act of governance of Queen Maria II would be the granting of the “Great Cross of the old and very noble Order of the Tower and Sword, of value, loyalty and merit” to her stricken father “in witness to the living love, respect and gratitude” to his august person as expressed in the Royal Charter written in the Palace of Queluz on 20th September 1834, just a few days before his own death.
- The words of the Marquis of Resende ("Elogio historico de Sua Magestade Imperial o Senhor D. Pedro…", 1837) about a copy of the painting by the London artist: “(…) The Duchess of Bragança ordered the taking of a Copy of the Painting, in which the life of His imagination guided the brush of the artist [John Simpson], who would only see His Worshipped Lord on a single occasion but would perfectly reproduce His Features (…)”. Later, in the 1867 edition, he rectifies this to: “(…) an artist who saw him on few occasions (…)”. Both comments nevertheless reflect an absence of the social interaction between John Simpson and Dom Pedro, necessary to any process of sitting for an official formal portrait. This differs to the case, for example, of J. B. Ribeiro, whose social engagement with the monarch is well-known.
ON JOHN SIMPSON
A painter who specialised in the portrait genre, he studied at the Royal Academy and was one of the most important of assistants to Sir Thomas Lawrence, actively assisting the master in various portraits in the final phase of his life and completing various portraits in the wake of his death. It is possible that he produced some of the commissions that requested copies of the portraits painted by Lawrence as is known to have been the case with Richard Evans, another of the painter's assistants.
Standing out among Simpson's works is “The Captive Slave”, a bold painting that went on display in the Royal Academy in 1827 and that expressed his position in favour of the abolition of slavery that despite being illegal in Britain was then still a reality in the colonies. This represented a highly controversial subject in the socio-political context of that period and the Royal Academy, above all when taking into account that the abolition of slavery in the colonies would only actually happen in 1833 through an act of parliament, the Slavery Abolition Act.
The model who sat for the painting was Ira Aldridge, then aged around twenty and a free-born Afro-American and the first Shakespearian actor of African descent to tread the stages of London and Europe and playing roles such as Shylock, Macbeth, Richard III and King Lear.
Creator: John Philip Simpson (Enfield, 1782-London, 1847)