The sitter was the son of Barnaby Backwell (1711-1754), a successful London Banker and his second wife, Sarah Gibbon (d. 1764). By following his father in to the banking profession Tyringham continued the family tradition set by his influential great-great grandfather Edward Backwell (1618-1683) who was banker to Charles II and Samuel Pepys amongst other noteworthies. He is recorded as residing in St. Clement Danes, London and Tyringham, Buckinghamshire. He was buried in 1777 and the family estates of Backwell and Tyringham which included properies both in and around London as well as country houses in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire, passed to his eldest sister Elizabeth, Mrs. Mackworth Praed.
John Astley studied along with Joshua Reynolds under Thomas Hudson during the 1740s, before embarking to Italy around 1747. Whilst in Rome he studied for a brief time under Pompeo Batoni, before returning to England and London in 1752, where he founded a successful portrait practice. In 1756 he took his business to Dublin where he earned a considerable sum and married a ‘beautiful Irish girl’ before returning to England and a new wife in 1759; a rich widow who allowed the ‘dashing, reckless, conceited, cleverindividual’ to ignore painting and waste 150,000 of her estate (A. Crookshank, The Painters of Ireland, 1978, p. 151). It is a common criticism of Astley that he let his talent waste away on the strength of his inherited fortune, rather than it enabling him to practice with no financial constraints. Despite this many portraits of quality exist to enable us to appreciate his gifts as a talented, but all too often over looked, portraitist of the 18th century.
Astley seems to have favored bust length portraits as the greater body of his work is in this format. His later pictures show much dexterity and freedom of brushwork as is evident here particularly in the rendering of the braid and buttons of the coat.
Olympia, Winter Fine Art & Antiques Fair 2008
Statements of Self-Importance – The Portrait in Europe 1660-1950, Langston Gallery, London, 2009