Lucas van Uffel was a wealthy Flemish merchant and shipowner who lived in Venice and formed a major collection of Italian and Northern European paintings. His date of birth is unknown but his father had settled in Amsterdam by 1591 and Van Uffel was in Venice by 1616. Working with other members of his family, he rapidly became prosperous enough to attract the envy and extortion of the Venetian authorities and in the mid-1630s he moved to Amsterdam, taking with him his important art collection which included paintings by Raphael, Titian, Rubens and others. Van Dyck probably painted him in Venice around 1622, when he was eagerly searching the city for pictures by the Italian masters. The canvas was first recorded in the collection of the Landgraves of Hesse-Kassel in the 1730s and, importantly for the painting presented here, by 1836 was with George Granville Sutherland-Leveson-Gower, 2nd Duke of Sutherland.
Harriet, wife of the 2nd Duke of Sutherland sat for George Richmond in 1846, her portrait being listed in his account books for that year. At the same time as undertaking that commission it seems likely he executed this fine watercolour of van Dyck’s painting which was hanging in the Duke’s house at the time. Richmond is known to have made sketches and studies of old masters which he encountered, it being recorded in 1844 that he ‘painted a copy of Gainsboro’ and in December 1849 visited Petworth where he made sketches of the collection of old masters. A study of Queen Henrietta Maria copied from van Dyck emerged in more recent years and follows the portrait in the Royal Collection. (Agnew’s, Missing Pages. George Richmond R.A.(1809-1896), London 2001, no. 58).
Richmond’s record of Van Dyck’s portrait is a magnificent study of a painting that had just been exhibited publicly in London for the first time, no doubt to great interest. (British Institution, June 1845, no. 13 as “Portrait”, lent by the Duke of Sutherland). The chance to produce a highly finished copy in watercolour, a medium in which he excelled, clearly proved too irresistible to the artist. In the compositon the sitter appears active and almost impatient, as if distracted from his learning and pursuit of the arts. The antique head, the drawing, the flute, and the bow of a viola da gamba indicate Van Uffel’s interest in the fine arts and music; the celestial globe suggesting knowledge of astronomy and navigation; the dividers perhaps refering to geography as well as astronomy. Whilst capturing the grandeur and energy of van Dyck’s original, Richmond has created a work of power and subtlety with unique effect which simultaneously pays homage to the master, yet manages to remain true to his own distinct methods of producing portraits in watercolour.
George Richmond studied at the Royal Academy Schools where he met and formed a lifelong friendship with Samuel Palmer. As a youth he became a disciple of William Blake who had a profound effect on his art, and with Palmer and Edward Calvert he formed ‘The Ancients’, painting visionary works in the manner of Blake. After his marriage in 1831, Richmond concentrated on portraiture, a field in which he excelled, becoming one of the most prolific portraitists of the Victorian period.