I am in receipt of a parcel from an art dealer. My Christmas present to me. I put a deposit on it months ago, paid some of it off and borrowed some money from a good friend to secure the item. It is a portrait miniature of, I hope, Lord George Gordon (1751 – 1793). Yes, he of the eponymous 1780 riots, the worst in the history of London with the possible exception of Wat Tyler’s do. Apart from a later item of Gordon after he converted to Judaism published in the Jewish Encyclopaedia of 1906 (attributed to Salomon Polack (1759 – 1839)), it’s the only proper portrait of the famous troublemaker that I am aware exists. It is by Lucas Bateman, an obscure miniaturist, and dated 1775. There is a subsequent paper label on the back which reads: ‘Lord George “Gordon Riots” “No Popery” 1780.’
I’m a bit concerned, however, about another label which is damaged with bits missing. Unlike the first label, it is printed and it reads:
Line One: …ascended in a balloon
Line Two: …15 September, 1784. This was th…
Line Three: …to navigat…. atmosphere in Engl…
Line Four: …on.
This can only refer to an Italian diplomat’s assistant Vincenzo Lunardi (1759 – 1806), who on that date took the first ever balloon flight in England from Bunhill Fields artillery ground. I have found just two engravings of Lunardi, in both of which his nose appears quite different from this picture, with a weaker jaw-line. Secondly, if the picture is dated as attributed – 1775 – Lunardi would only have been about 16 and probably unlikely to have been based in England at the time. Gordon, on the other hand, was about 24 at this time, realistically a similar age to the man depicted.
Whatever the case, I’d be happy if the image is of either chap, although I do hope it’s Gordon. More investigations to come!
My sincere thanks to Lucy Inglis for invaluable advice about the purchasing of historical objects, this one in particular.