Drawn from nature and as large as life

The lifesize print portraits of Thomas Frye.

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Thomas Frye mezzotint 1760

Untitled
(Man holding nose spectacles)
Thomas Frye, 1760

Quite high up we've hung one of our larger prints. It's style is such that it almost looks like a black and white oil painting though, unusually for a mezzotint of the period, it is an original work of art rather than a reproduction of an existing known painting. Despite its elevated position you can still see clearly the nose spectacles dating from 1760.

This print is one of Thomas Frye's (1710-1762) first series of twelve life-size portraits, published late in his life. The series was pre-announced in various publications, for example The Public Advertiser of 28 April 1760 which declared that they would be 'drawn from nature and large as life'. Frye published a second series of six portraits, exclusively of women, in 1761.

The two series are thought to have been influenced by John Smith's mezzotints of the 1690s made after paintings by Gottfried Schalken, particularly those featuring candle light, so the artist was clearly interested in visual effects. Significantly none of the portraits was given a title so we cannot say who this spectacle owner is but the claim to be drawn from nature implies the sitter could be a friend or relative of Frye, perhaps involved in the theatrical business.  

Detail of Thomas Frye mezzotint 1760

The portraits have been seen as a deliberate attempt by this retired porcelain factory manager to re-establish his claim to be an artist. As such (and unlike some of the popular Bow figurines whose production he oversaw) they were aimed in limited editions of 200 to buyers at the higher end of the market. Frye himself claimed to be emulating the Italian artist G. B. Piazzetta.

Only one picture in the series is relevant to our museum's collecting policy but if you would like to see more of the eighteen 'fancy heads' visit the National Portrait Gallery which in 2007 held a special exhibition on Frye. Why not combine a visit to our two attractions?

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