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Thomas Frye

(1710 Dublin – 1762 London)

Portrait of a man, turned to the right, in profile, his chin resting on his hand. Mezzotint. 49.5 x 35 cm. 1760. Chaloner Smith (British Mezzotinto Portraits, Volume II, Frye) 14.

The Anglo-Irish painter and later mezzotint engraver, Thomas Frye, made his debut as a portrait painter in London in the early 1730s before going on to become one of the founders of an important porcelain manufactory in 1747. He was obliged to withdraw from the manufactory in 1759 for health reasons. After taking a rest cure in Wales, Frye settled in his house in Hatton Garden near London, where he reflected on his artistic abilities and set about publishing mezzotint prints after his own inventions. In 1760, two years before his death, he produced Twelve Mezzotint Prints from Designs in the Manner of Piazzetta, drawn from Nature and as large as life, to which he later added six other portraits.

The images of life-sized heads are presented in various moods and poses and occasionally incorporate a dramatic distribution of light that reveals the influence of Joseph Wright of Derby.This depiction of a young man sat contemplating is remarkable for its stark physical presence. The pronounced bottom view makes his face appear a little misshapen, almost unpleasant even, but it is highly expressive all the same. Lost in thought, he gazes into the distance. No less noteworthy is Frye’s astounding treatment of the texture. With the help of a chopping knife and scraper he produces soft tonal values that make the man’s complexion appear vibrantly warm and lifelike. Details such as the eyebrows and eyelashes and the wavy curls of his shock of hair are treated with the utmost care. The rendering of the lace cuff and the silky shimmering fabric of his coat is of unsurpassed tactile quality.

A portrait of great intensity, it shows Frye at the very peak of his art and illustrates the exceptionally high standard of English mezzotints in his time. A superb, rich impression with thread margins around the platemark. Minor defects, but the overall impression is excellent. On an old collector’s mount.

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