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Richard Houston

(1722 Dublin - 1775 London?)

Queen Charlotte of Great Britain, in a richly decorated brocade costume sat at a rocaille table. Mezzotint after Johann Joseph Zoffany. 53.4 x 40.9 cm. 1772. Le Blanc 45, Challoner-Smith (British Mezzotint Portraits, vol. II, Houston) 25 I (of III).

This imposing mezzotint shows Sophie Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz (1744-1818). In 1761 the princess, who hailed from Mirow in Mecklenburg, became queen of Great Britain and Ireland through her marriage to King George III. The depiction of the young woman in a precious and richly adorned brocade dress derives from the famous portrait of the queen made in 1771 by Johan Joseph Zoffany and was produced as a companion piece to a portrait of George III. Charlotte is not shown here in her official role as queen. Rather Zoffany has drawn a more private portrait of the young regent as a wife, who wears a miniature portrait of her husband on a pearl bracelet attached to her right wrist. The painting is now in the Royal Collection in London.
The Irish mezzotintist, Richard Houston, undertook a total of six portraits of the English queen and of these the reproduction of Zoffany’s painting is undoubtedly the most delightful. Houston ranked among the foremost mezzotint engravers of his time. Together with his fellow artist, James MacArdell, he was trained by John Brooks in Dublin. Around 1747, at about the same time as MacArdell, Houston moved to London, where he set up in business as an engraver and produced his best works. After his successful debut, Houston’s “dissolute way of life” (Thieme-Becker) made him dependent on other publishers, for whom he was obliged to make copies after plates of other engravers as well as graphic reproductions; he also spent some time in a debtors’ prison. Houston’s turbulent lifestyle made him one of the most colourful artistic figures of his time. He worked mostly after originals by Zoffany, Antoine Pesne, Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Frye. Houston’s brilliant engraving technique enabled him to reproduce the distribution of light and the subject matter of the painted originals in convincing and masterly fashion. The present work, a technical masterpiece, is considered one of the artist’s major works. Before letters, with the engraved name of the artist and the address which, along with the title, was only added in the second state. A superb, harmonious and vibrant impression with thread margins around the platemark. Minor signs of ageing, otherwise in mint condition.

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