Sir William Beechey (1753–1839) England
Portrait of John Greenwood Jnr. c.1795
oil on canvas
Gift of Hugh Greenwood on behalf of the Greenwood family, 2005
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Though unfinished, William Beechey’s portrait of John Greenwood Junior has all the characteristics of the artist’s straightforward style. The subject was the son of the artist John Greenwood (Senior) (1727–1792), and is presented without embellishments against a plain background. Above the carefully layered folds of his creamy stock and collar, the young man’s expression is wistful, and he averts his gaze. His unkempt and wispy hair adds further poetic overtones to Beechey’s presentation. There may well have been some truth behind the depiction of this rather anxious youth – John Greenwood had taken over his father’s art dealership when the latter died in 1792 and the business was struggling financially.
The 1790s was an important decade for Beechey and stylistically the pinnacle of his career. So it is disappointing that while the facial features, the eyes and the stock have been well painted, the rest of the portrait is largely unfinished. There could be several reasons for this.
In 1793 Beechey was appointed as official portraitist to Queen Charlotte, and in 1798 he was knighted and made a full Royal Academician. He was undoubtedly engaged on more important commissions, and reserved his more elaborate and finished style for his portraits of the royal family. Full- or three-quarter-length portraits were more favoured and more successful at Royal Academy exhibitions. And Greenwood may not have been able to pay for the portrait to be completed. It was painted in 1795, and a couple of years later he even went so far as to take an assumed name – Mr Ellis – so that he could escape paying tax and until matters could be settled with his creditors.