Nathaniel Dance Holland, a painter of some distinction and a founder member of the Royal Academy, died 200 years ago today. Although he didn’t keep a diary himself, he is mentioned many times in Joseph Farington’s diary, one of the most important sources of historical information about the London art world in the period.
The third son of architect George Dance the Elder, Nathaniel was born in 1735. He studied art under Francis Hayman, a painter and illustrator, and then, in 1754, went to live in Italy, where he developed a considerable reputation as a portrait painter. In 1760, he was commissioned to paint four versions of a now famous conversation piece (an informal group portrait) in front of the Colosseum. Soon after, he was also commissioned for a full-length portrait of Edward, Duke of York.
On his return to England in 1766, Dance continued working as a successful portrait painter. With Hayman and his architect brother George Dance the Younger, he was one of the founder members of the Royal Academy in 1768. Among his notable portraits were those of King George III, Captain James Cook, and actor David Garrick.
In 1773, both Dance and Thomas Gainsborough refused to exhibit at the Royal Academy after a disagreement with the president, Sir Joshua Reynolds, but Dance returned to the Academy exhibition in 1774, showing Orpheus Lamenting the Loss of Eurydice, and, in 1776, The Death of Mark Anthony. In 1782 he moved to Cranbury Park, Hampshire, the home of a widow, Mrs Harriet Dummer, who he married the following year.
Dance resigned from the Royal Academy in 1790, the year of his election to Parliament, but he did continue to exhibit as an amateur. He was made a baronet in 1800, and the same year took the name Holland by royal decree. He died on 15 October 1811. A little further information is available at Wikipedia, though the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (which requires login) has a much better article.
There is no evidence that Dance kept a diary. However, Joseph Farington mentions Dance in his diary quite often. Farington was born in 1747 in Leigh, Lancashire, the second of seven sons of the local vicar. After studying in Manchester, he went to train with Richard Wilson in London and won several prizes, awarded by the Society of Artists, for landscape drawings. He joined the Royal Academy when it was founded, and remained an active member for most of his life. Although he produced some important artistic books - Views of the Lakes of Cumberland and Westmorland and History of the River Thames - he is much better remembered for his diary, with its vivid portrayals of the London art scene in the late 18th century and early 19th century. Farington’s diary was first published by Hutchinson in the 1920s, in four volumes, and these are all freely available at Internet Archive.
Here are a few entries about Nathaniel Dance from Farington’s diary.
11 October 1793
‘The Prince of Wales has desired N[athaniel] Dance to paint his portrait, which has much embarrassed the latter, who is very unwilling to do it.’
28 January 1794
‘Went this morning with G. Dance to N. Dances in Mortimer Street. The landscape the latter has painted is very ably executed, and very clear. He remarked on the custom of painters observing the foreground objects in masses of brown. His parts in shade are as much made out as those in light.’
18 March 1794
‘Dance recommended the painting clear skies with Ultramarine and White alone and then to use Ivory Black, with White for the cloud tints; adding in some cases a little vermilion or Naples yellow. He said Sir Joshua Reynolds recommended the using Black for his cloud tint, which he said would always be in harmony with the Blue and White.’
30 April 1794
‘News to-day of a victory over the French, near Cambray. The general opinion is that Lawrence this year is inferior to Hoppner. Jones and Hearne think the handling in Dances landscape poor and thorny: that the colouring has too much sameness: and that the greens are not of a true colour. Jones particularly objected to it. They both said how much the subject would gain by being differently coloured.’
26 May 1796
‘N, Dance I met & Sir George Beaumont joined us. Dance told us He had this day paid the Duke of Dorset £4,000 for his seat in the new parliament, and a treat there [East Grinstead] cost him £50 more. I asked him [how] He wd. be circumstanced if a new parliament shd. be called in a year or two. He said He had no agreement, it was all upon honor; but He should think himself very ill used, if required to pay again at the end of so short a time.’
21 April 1807
‘At Eleven o’Clock I called on Sir Nathaniel Holland [Dance had changed his name by this time to Dance-Holland]. We talked of the sale of Barry’s pictures. He said Barry’s Birth of Pandora was a very incompetent attempt to do something great. It was deficient both in design, in form, & in colouring. Jupiter was a Huge figure in the upper parts but the lower limbs were so small in proportion that such a figure could not stand. It was the case with several other figures in that picture; and many of the limbs appeared to have been executed in imitation of parts which He had looked at in the antique, but these limbs were not of the same character with the other parts of the figure to which He had attached them. What attempt there was at colouring was as bad as possible, He seemed to have no sense of it. On the whole He sd. Barry Had talked & bullied people into a belief of His being a great artist. He said His Venus rising from the Sea was His best performance. In that He had the Venus of Medicis in his eye, & made something of it, but He had spoilt the picture by rubbing a brick dust colour over the upper part of the figure.
He spoke of the Bacchus & Ariadne by Titian belonging to Lord Kinnaird. He said it was impossible that Titian could have left the Sky in the state it is, almost pure Ultramarine, like a Lapis Lazuli stone, while another part of the sky is quite Hot. He did not like the figure of Bacchus leaping from His Car, nor that of Ariadne. In some parts there is fine colour, but on the whole it is a picture more fit for an Artist to examine for the purpose of studying what is good in it, than desireable to hang up in a room for general admiration. He thought the picture had been in the hands of bungling picture menders.
He mentioned Wilkie with great approbation, saying that His merit was of the right sort, so true in all respects.
He complained of not having a good painting room at His House in the Country. He had no light good to paint by but what faced the South & He had been much embarassed by it.’
6 June 1807
‘[George] Dance I dined with. We dined a little before 5 and had Port, Madeira, & Red Champaigne. Drinking was spoken of. Dance told me I knew a person who never in his life was intoxicated; it was Sir Nathl. Holland, His Brother. He added that Sir Nathl. always objected to wine; and, when alone, He believed did not drink any; but in company passes the bottle so as to keep up an appearance of drinking some wine. Sir Nathl. has a strong prejudice against wine & thinks it a kind of poison. To Tea He has no objection.’
2 November 1807
‘Sir Nathl. is said to posess £24,000 a year, but does not expend more than £5,000 a year. He lives very handsomely however, both in His House & equipage; Has a man Cook, & when He gives dinners they are sumptuous. He is extremely fond of a young girl, the daughter of His Butler, and just emerging from Childhood. She sits at His table while Her father waits at it . . . and is taken by them [Sir Nathaniel & Lady Holland] when they pay visits, which causes some difficulty in others to know how to receive her. He makes sketches & occasionally paints, but complained of His eyes when speaking to Owen. Though He is considered a singular man in His manner, He is on the whole very well liked by the neighbouring gentry.’