The sitter, Capt. John Stewart, was born in Scotland, the son of Thomas Stewart (1739-1791) Town Clerk of Montrose, and Elizabeth Guise daughter of Capt. John Guise of the 6th Regiment of Foot. Together with three of his brothers he joined the army and later as a Captain in the 46th Regiment of Foot he commissioned from Thomas Phillips this particularly dashing portrait of himself and another of his sister, Elizabeth, wife of the eminent sculptor Henry Westmacott, both listed in the artist’s sitter book for 1813/14, (National Portrait Gallery, London). The art historian Gustav Waagen, writing of Phillips after his death, noted he was “distinguished for his true and delicate conception, his generally excellent colouring, and his conscientious and equal execution”. Qualities that are clearly to be observed and appreciated in the portrait presented here.
The portrait-painter Thomas Phillips was born in Dudley, Warwickshire, on 18th October 1770. At first apprentice to the Birmingham glass-painter Francis Eginton he came to London in 1790 with an introduction to Benjamin West who found work for him on the painted-glass windows of St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. In 1791 he began studying at the Royal Academy (of which West was co-founder) and having experimented with landscapes and historical subjects, discovered a talent for portrait-painting. Here he had to compete in an over-populated field where Lawrence, Hoppner, Beechey, Owen, and Shee already commanded considerable clienteles. By the turn of the century, though, Phillips was attracting lucrative sitters and a rapid advance in his fortune saw him paint the Prince of Wales in 1806. In the following years he portrayed many of the celebrities of the day including the poets Blake, Byron, Coleridge, Crabbe, Thomas Campbell, Rogers, and Southey, the scientists Banks, Buckland, Dalton, Davy, Faraday, and Somerville, the explorers Clapperton, Denham, Franklin, and Parry, and the artists Chantrey and Wilkie. He was elected an associate of the Royal Academy in 1804, a full member in 1808, and, in 1825, the Academy’s professor of painting. As well as authoring many occasional essays on the Fine Arts, he published his Lectures on the History and Principles of Painting in 1833. A fellow of the Royal Society and Society of Antiquaries and founding member of the Artists’ General Benevolent Institution, Phillips died in London on 20 April 1845. The art historian Brian Stewart wrote “His best works are full of character and show him to be in the top rank of portrait painters” (The Dictionary of Portrait Painters in Britain up to 1920, p.370.)
Literature: British Army Lists 1814; Thomas Phillips sitter book, National Portrait Gallery, London – Heinz Archive; Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004