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James Watson

(circa 1740 Dublin – 1790 London)

Portrait of Nancy Parsons in Oriental Dress. Mezzotint. 60.2 x 45.6 cm. 1771. Chaloner-Smith 114, Goodwin 81. Watermark: Monogram of Christ with countermark T Dupuy Fin / Auvergne 1742.

Annabella (Nancy) Parsons, later Viscountess Maynard, was a notorious courtesan who moved in the highest circles of the English aristocracy and had numerous, much discussed affairs. Thanks to her temporary liaison with Augustus FitzRoy, 3rd Duke of Grafton, who was appointed First Minister in 1767, she was to all intents and purposes First Lady for a while. The composition reproduces in reverse a famous painting made by George Willison in 1771, which is now in the Yale Center for British Art. Nancy is wearing an oriental dress in keeping with the then very popular Turquerie fashion and is resting on a divan. The portrait is in all probability based on similar works by the immensely famous Jean-Étienne Liotard, who had worked in London himself from 1753 to 1755. The texture and distribution of light in the print demonstrate the tremendous technical virtuosity and high artistic level of mezzotints made in England at this time.

James Watson, who hailed from Dublin and was probably trained in London by his fellow countryman, James McArdell, is regarded as one of the most talented and prolific mezzotint engravers of his era. Watson engraved well over fifty mezzotint prints after Joshua Reynolds alone which rank among the finest reproductive engravings after this master. A superb, nuanced impression with thread margins. With the scratched name of the artist, before letters. One of the three impressions recorded by Goodwin. In excellent condition. From the collection of F. Reiss (Lugt 2178).

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